Reading The Wheel of Time: Tuon Arrives and Mat Tries to Escape in Winter’s Heart (Part 12)

This week in Reading The Wheel of Time, the Return begins, and the name of a person we know but have never met joins our tale. Also, Mat plots his escape from Ebou Dar and ponders the invention of a new weapon. It’s Chapters 14 and 15 of Winter’s Heart.

Hundreds of Seanchan ships sail over the sea. The Corenne, the Return, has begun. On the lead ship, a woman named Tuon sits having her head shaved by her dresser, Selucia. When Tuon was a baby, Selucia’s mother gave her to Tuon as a gift, to be her nursemaid and her shadow, a secret bodyguard. When Tuon turned sixteen, she gave the traditional gifts to Selucia to thank her for the work, which included Selucia choosing her next appointment. But she chose to be Tuon’s dresser, and to remain her secret shadow.

Tuon is troubled because the night before she gave an order in anger. To balance herself, she chooses to wear a veil rather than the gold lace cap which would expose her shaved head and “mark her with the Raven-and-Roses.” She is uncomfortable asking her Soe’feia, Anath, to administer a penance because she still doesn’t know the woman very well.

In the second cabin she greets six of her sul’dam with their damane. One damane, Lidya, was the cause of Tuon’s anger the night before—she commanded the damane to read her fortune, then had her beaten when she did not like what she heard. Now she praises Lidya as being a good damane, and orders her wounds tended. Tuon checks in with all the other damane as well and gives orders to the sul’dam—she believes that no one should own damane without taking an active role with them. She has even been able to train Mylen, a damane who was once Aes Sedai and who refused to eat or drink and nearly died, before Tuon purchased and trained her.

Some of the five hundred Death Watch guards are stationed in the outer cabin, each one of whom would die to protect her—and will die, if she dies. Seeing her veil, the captain orders only two to accompany her on deck…

… where two dozen Ogier Gardeners in the red-and-green made a line to either side of the doorway, great black-tasseled axes upright in front of them and grim eyes watching for any danger even here. They would not die if she did, but they also had asked to be in her guard, and she would rest her life in any of those huge hands without a qualm.

The nobles on deck greet her as an equal when they see her veil. Her secretary Yuril, who is secretly also her Hand and commander of her Seekers, kneels, and “the Macura woman,” prostrates herself. Tuon doesn’t know why this woman hates Aes Sedai so much, but she has given Tuon much valuable information, and seems eager to do more.

Anath is standing by the railing. When Tuon’s previous Soe’feia died unexpectedly, the Empress named Anath as replacement, and Tuon is a little afraid of her. Anath is dismissive of the veil, pointing out that everyone still knows who she is, even if the veil has them pretending otherwise, and that Tuon is a fool for thinking that she took on shame for such a little thing as having a damane beaten. She asks what the damane said to enrage Tuon so, but Tuon only answers that she will wear the veil until an omen tells her that it is time to stop.

Only luck had kept anyone from overhearing Lidya’s cryptic words. Everyone knew that damane could foretell the future, and if any of the Blood had heard, they would all have been chattering behind their hands about her fate.

Tuon listens as Anath continues telling her what a fool she is, loudly enough for those nearby to hear. The Captain is clearly horrified, but the traditions of Tuon’s family say that a Truthspeaker is always allowed to tell the truth. Still, Tuon isn’t comfortable with the idea of taking a penance from Anath—she believes that is taking the easy way out.

Tuon steers the conversation to Suroth, and then to the Dragon Reborn. The prophecies say that he must kneel to the Crystal Throne before Tar’mon Gaidon, or all is lost. Anath warns Tuon not to let the man know how dangerous she is to him until it is too late for him to escape. Tuon listens, and looks ahead to where she can see the harbor of Ebou Dar.

Behind her veil, she was merely the High Lady Tuon, of higher rank than many others of the Blood, but in her heart, always, she was Tuon Athaem Kore Paendrag, Daughter of the Nine Moons, and she had come to reclaim what had been stolen from her ancestor.

Mat sits in a wagon with Aludra, who he discovered in Ebou Dar when Valan Luca’s traveling show came to the city. Mat is still recovering from the injuries he received when a wall fell on him during the Seanchan attack. Attempting to persuade Aludra to share the secret of fireworks with him, he tells her that there isn’t a Guild of Illuminators anymore. When the members at the Tanchico Chapter House refused to let Seanchan soldiers inside, there was a battle—and somehow half the compound exploded. Afterwards, everyone at the Chapter House who was left alive, or who even appeared to be an Illuminator, was gathered up and made da’covale.

Aludra grieves over other Illuminators’ stubbornness, and tells Mat that the Guild lives on in her. She asks Mat what he will do if she does give him the secret to fireworks. Mat suggests that the tubes used to throw nightflowers into the sky could be aimed horizontally against an enemy. Aludra admits that Mat’s idea is a decent one, but she has already been thinking about the subject and tells Mat that, if he can tell her what she wants a bellfounder for, she will tell him all her secrets, including the ones that will make him blush.

She sends him away to ponder the question for a few days. As Mat is leaving, she murmurs something about how she would think of kissing him, if he didn’t belong to another. Mat is irked, especially because Tylin had taken all his clothes while he was bedridden and recovering. As a result, he’s dressed in flashy, revealing clothes which include a lot of lace and breeches that he deems far too tight. 

All that remained of his own were his hat and the black silk scarf tied around his neck. And the silvery foxhead medallion, of course, hanging on a leather cord under his shirt. And his knives; he really would have felt lost without those.

He leaves the wagon, puzzling over Aludra’s question and wondering if Tylin has changed him into the sort of man women chase. Outside he considers the picket line, and wonders if he should have Vanin steal some of Luca’s horses, but Mat isn’t recovered enough yet to ride very far.

When Mat thinks about Rand or Perrin, faint colors swirl in his head. He wishes it would stop. He wishes he could get away from Ebou Dar, and from Tylin, and take the secret of fireworks with him.

He goes to extract Olver from a group of women he is intently flirting with. He lectures the boy that women want quiet, well-mannered men, but Olver looks incredulous. Mat finds Thom and Beslan, and Thom reports that Luca has agreed to let them leave Ebou Dar with the traveling show, for a very high price. Unfortunately, however, he does not intend to leave until spring at the earliest. Beslan remarks that his mother will not be happy with him if she learns that he is helping “her pretty” to leave Ebou Dar. 

As they prepare to return to the Palace, Mat groans. The dice have just started tumbling in his head.

I almost forgot about Mat’s future wife—I haven’t thought about her since he stopped asking people if they’d ever heard of the Daughter of the Nine Moons. In his defense, and mine, he’s been a little bit busy with other things lately. I do have a vague memory of a Seanchan spy recognizing the title when Mat asked about it around some gaming table or other. I can’t remember when exactly that was, but of course the greater clue as to her identity was in The Fires of Heaven, when Elayne and Nynaeve were traveling with Valan Luca’s show and met Cerandin. It was then that they, and we the reader, learned that the Seanchan Empresses’ Court is called the Court of the Nine Moons—which pretty much told us exactly who the Daughter of the Nine Moons must be.

As far as ta’veren powers and the needs of the Pattern goes, it makes a lot of sense that Mat should end up married to the Empress’s Daughter, a woman who one day will herself be the Empress of Seanchan. Though the Seanchan are enemies to all of the other lands, and especially to channelers, they are not a nation of Darkfriends, and they do intend to fight in the Last Battle. Their prophecies say that the Dragon will kneel to the Empress, of course, which I doubt will happen, but Rand is going to have to find a way to bring them under his control, or at least into some kind of alliance, if everyone on the side of the Light is going to go into the Last Battle united. He has already suffered incredible losses in battle with the Seanchan, and having to fight even more into submission would be a costly loss of time, lives, and resources, even if he could manage to win an outright war against them. On the other hand, tying their princess to one of his best friends would be a sound political move for Rand, and Mat is a significant ta’veren as well, which might also help steer things in the way Rand/the Pattern needs them to go.

While very little happens in chapter 14, we do learn more about the culture of the Seanchan, some of which is quite interesting. They do seem to be a fairly superstitious culture, and Tuon in particular is very focused on the idea that omens—sightings of animals or occurrences of nature—can be used to guide her course and her decisions. I wonder if this kind of belief will make her accept Mat fairly easily, once she meets him and figures out that he is the person Foretold to be her husband.

I mean, that almost has to be what Lidya’s “fortune telling” was, right? The chapter doesn’t give the contents of Lidya’s words, but Tuon thinks that the nobles would be gossiping about her fate if they had overheard. This suggests that the fortune Lydia told concerns something significant in Tuon’s future, but not related to the fate of the Seanchan or the Return. We also know that Tuon didn’t like what she was told, but that she seems fairly resigned the next morning, which means that the news probably wasn’t as devastating as, for example, learning of her impending death. Or that she will never be Empress. Given that we the readers already know a very important piece of Tuon’s future, and given Jordan’s love of dramatic irony and of creating parallels between characters, I feel confident that I’m right in my guess.

But what’s really fascinating, if my assumption is correct and Lidya did actually Foretell Tuon’s marriage to some country-boy turned general with magical snake-people memories (okay, she probably didn’t word it like that), this raises some very interesting questions about the abilities of the female channelers in Seanchan. Tuon mentions that Lidya’s words were “cryptic,” which also lines up with how Foretellings go—they usually have to be deciphered and often only make sense in retrospect. But Tuon commanded Lidya to tell her fortune, which means that Lidya was able to summon this Foretelling at will. That is not how it works among the Aes Sedai, and as far as we know the ability to have a Foretelling has never been voluntary, even at the height of this Age’s Aes Sedai strength.

The Seanchan kill men born with the spark and imprison women who present with the ability to channel, so one would expect that they might also be suffering from a decline in the average power of their female channelers as they have been culling the ability out of their population just as the Aes Sedai have. It is possible, however, that sul’dam usually end up having families, which would mean that more people with the ability to channel are having children in Seanchan than in lands connected to Aes Sedai. We know that Alivia is stronger even than Nynaeve, despite having been born around four hundred years ago, which may suggests that there are a greater number of very powerful women among the damane than there are among the Aes Sedai. However, it’s also possible that Alivia’s strength might be exceptional among damane, and there may have been more Aes Sedai born four hundred years ago who could match her, all of whom would be dead now because the Oath Rod shortened their lifespan.

Additionally, the concept that the number of channelers is declining because of genetic lines being cut is only a theory among the Aes Sedai, and we don’t really know how, or even if, genetics are important to the birth of new channelers. So all this is really just speculation, though if genetics were significant in the birth of new channelers, that might pose an interesting problem for the Seanchan. If a lot of sul’dam were having children, their children might have a higher likelihood of being born with the spark. It’s an interesting thought, if purely theoretical.

Tuon also has the ability to be a sul’dam, which means she has the ability to learn to channel. How ironic for Mat, the man with the anti-saidar medallion, that he is going to end up married to a channeler of saidar. Or at least a potential channeler. The truth about sul’dam is bound to become common knowledge eventually, but Seanchan culture might be too inflexible to adapt to this information quickly, or well. It may take more than a generation for those with the ability to be sul’dam to accept the idea of becoming channelers in their own right, even after society has generally accepted that such a thing is possible.

The ownership of damane is, of course, abhorrent, but if we examine the culture from the inside, Tuon’s perspective on it is interesting. She is high-born and powerful, a person who has beaten out many siblings in order to be her mother’s heir; she clearly must be capable of great strength and ruthlessness when the situation calls for it. And yes, she believes in her right to own people, as most of the Seanchan do, but she also believes in the responsibility that comes with that ownership, that comes with the power she has over others.

This balancing point of rights and responsibility seems to be the linchpin of Seanchan society. They are very hierarchically ordered, and yet there is room for great mobility, both upwards and downwards. The highest-born may find themselves made da’covale if they make a mistake or are taken out by a political opponent and it seems no one (save perhaps the Empress herself?) is immune to such a fall. Someone low-born can be raised in status and even made one of the Blood, through impressive performance of their duties and service to their leaders. Or the occasional blackmail, as we saw with Alwhin. And excluding damane, who are not viewed as people, even slaves can be set free or raised to a high position, and some slaves may even be more powerful and respected than many free people.

You can understand how many Seanchan might believe that their society is both just and moral. It requires accepting certain truths, about channelers but also about concepts of failure, and what constitutes failure. If you believe these things, however, the clear rules and order of society might indeed feel very fair, as well as useful in guiding your own actions. I can even see how the rigid structure of their society might appeal to the Ogier, who often find humans much too flighty and changeable.

We learned earlier in the series that the Ogier Gardeners are owned by the Empress herself, and that this arrangement is different and separate from the way ownership works in Seanchan. I’ve been eagerly awaiting more information about this arrangement since it was first mentioned, but I was surprised to learn that the Ogier Gardeners seem to be serving primarily as soldiers, very similarly to the Death Watch guards.

The Ogier societies we have encountered so far are peace-loving and quiet, very reserved people who keep to themselves, though they still do stonemason work in the cities and have a relationship with the Aiel. We know they can be powerful warriors when roused to it, as we have seen with Loial, but there is something very different going on with the Seanchan Ogier. It’s one thing for a being who primarily loves nature and peace to take up arms to defend his friends and fight against the growing Shadow, and quite another to be a martial force in service to—and owned by—an Empress. To be so dedicated to her daughter that they would accompany her on a mission to reclaim—i.e. conquer—another land.

The narration even states that these Ogier asked, specifically, to be part of Tuon’s guard, and are so loyal to her that she trusts them with her life. That’s no small amount of loyalty and dedication, making me very curious how this relationship came to be. It seems unlikely that any Ogier sailed with Luthair Paendrag, given the Longing would have made that a very dangerous trip. So there must have been Ogier and steddings in the lands Luthair and his followers settled on and conquered. These Ogier might have been very different than their counterparts on the other continent, just as the “Aes Sedai” in Seanchan were very different.

I’m not sure what I find more off-putting, Olver the baby horndog or the fact that Jordan has given us yet another powerful woman described as being petite, big-eyed, and with a childlike sort of beauty, who will end up romantically entangled with one of the main men. Sir, your kink is showing, and Tuon’s distress over not having a more commanding presence doesn’t really do anything to distract from the fact.

I am glad Mat is doing okay. I mean, he’s not doing great but the Seanchan arrival in Ebou Dar hasn’t actually made things worse for him. Tylin had already made him basically her sex prisoner, which is gross but at least it’s not a new grossness. And I really like Aludra and her friendship with him, so I’m excited to see her back—as long as that relationship doesn’t get weird and sexual, anyway. She’s a very interesting person, and I know she got kicked out of the Illuminator’s Guild because Rand blew up some of the fireworks, but it seems like there’s more in her background that might come up later.

Based on the comment about the bellfounder, I’d say she and Mat are on their way to inventing cannons. Mat is already thinking about how to shoot people with fireworks, and a person who casts bells in (I assume) iron or bronze would probably be able to make cannons. Such a weapon would be very useful against the Seanchan, and would deliver a destructive power that could, potentially, rival some of what the damane can do. 

It will be interesting to see if Mat and Tuon meet up soon, or if they are going to be ships in the night as she arrives in, and he escapes from, Ebou Dar. Ironically he’s just wondering if Tylin has turned him into the sort of man that women like to chase just as the woman he is destined to marry is sailing towards him.

It took me a moment to remember who the heck “the Macura woman” was, but I got there in the end. I guess Ronde hates Aes Sedai now because of what Nynaeve and Elayne did to her. Probably Elaida punished her as well, when she found out that Ronde had had the two in her grasp and lost them again. That’s very much her move, harshly punishing failure to the point where her attempt to enforce loyalty results instead in resentment, mistrust and even—as in this instance—betrayal. Ronde Macura on the side of the Seanchan is an alarming prospect. As a former member of the Yellow eyes-and-ears network she probably has useful information on the Aes Sedai, but more importantly, she can tell the Seanchan about forkroot. This knowledge could be very dangerous to any channelers that the Seanchan encounter, whether Aes Sedai, or Kin, or wilder, and could make them easier to catch and collar. It’s not a pleasant thought.

We’ll be sticking with Mat for the next two weeks as we continue on with Chapters 16 and 17. I haven’t read them yet, but I can guess that there will be hijinx and urban guerilla warfare against the Seanchan. And, possibly, a daring escape. I’m rooting for him, anyway, and the sooner he is out of Tylin’s sphere of influence, the better.

I am amused at the idea that there might be folks using Luca’s traveling show for cover again, though. And curious about why Luca doesn’t seem to like Mat at all.

A soaring albatross seemed to be following the Kidron, an omen of victory indeed, though the bird’s long wings were black instead of white. It must still mean the same thing. Omens did not change according to location.

Or… did they? icon-paragraph-end

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