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Reading The Wheel of Time: Recognition and Apologies in Robert Jordan’s A Crown of Swords (Part 13)

This week in Reading The Wheel of Time, Mat recovers a bit of his own memory, Elayne and Birgitte learn something unusual about their Bond, and Nynaeve and Elayne swallow their pride. A few times. It’s Chapters 21 and 22 of A Crown of Swords!

The citizens of Ebou Dar are celebrating Swovan Night with dancing and drinking, but Mat is more concerned with the fact that three men just attacked him. He considers the one he killed and the large sack he was carrying, and wonders what is wrong with his luck that he would encounter two robbery attempts in the same day. Returning to the Wandering Woman he corners Caira to ask after his men, but she is uncharacteristically cold to him as she informs him that Olver is in bed and that she hasn’t seen any of the others. She tells him that there is a “gilded woman” waiting in his room for him. Mat approaches the door cautiously, but when he goes in he is startled to see Elayne’s companion with the long braid, looking severe and studying Mat’s long Two Rivers bow.

“If this is about Olver,” he began, and suddenly a twist of memory unfolded, a mist thinned over one day, one hour in his life. Mat suddenly remembers being caught between the Seanchan and the Whitecloaks on Almoth Plain. He remembers blowing the Horn of Valere, and seeing the Heroes of the Horn ride to their aid, led by Artur Hawkwing. He saw Birgitte Silverbow among them, and now he recognizes her again.

The woman of legend gave a resigned sigh and propped his bow back in the corner next to his spear. “I was ripped out untimely, Hornsounder, cast out by Moghedien to die and saved by Elayne’s bonding.” She spoke slowly, studying him as if to be sure he understood. “I feared you might remember who I used to be.” Stunned, Mat drops into a chair and begins to complain about Elayne and Nynaeve keeping so many secrets, how they are truly Aes Sedai now and that Nynaeve is basically a stranger to him now. Birgitte counters that Mat has secrets of his own, and the fact that he blew the Horn of Valere is probably the smallest one. She asks him what language they’ve been speaking, and Mat realizes they’ve been speaking in the Old Tongue this whole time. He tries to brush it off as the Old Blood being strong in the Two Rivers, which makes Birgitte laugh uproariously.

She knuckled a tear from the corner of her eye. “Some people speak a few words, a phrase or two, because of the old blood. Usually without understanding what they say, or not quite. But you… One sentence you’re an Eharoni High Prince and the next a First Lord of Manetheren, accent and idiom perfect.”

Still, Birgitte tells Mat that his secret is safe with her, and he agrees that hers is with him. He is surprised when his comment about needing a drink is met with enthusiasm from Birgitte, especially when she suggests they go downstairs to talk. The dice are still rattling in his head. She must be a key to it, somehow. A man with any brains would climb out the window right now. “A pitcher or two sounds fine to me,” he told her.

Nynaeve, Elayne, and Aviendha sit in their room, waiting with varying degrees of patience for Birgitte to return, while Thom and Juilin play stones in a corner. Elayne seems distracted, almost as if she’s been drinking, while Aviendha is more interested in talking about why they aren’t going to kill Carridin, since among the Aiel, Darkfriends are killed the moment they are discovered. Thom explains the political situation Tylin is in—how the Inquisitors are by definition followers of the Light, and Tylin’s accusation would result, at best, in her Kingdom being invaded and her made a puppet of the Children of the Light. Aviendha remarks that she didn’t think Tylin was such a coward.

“You have never faced something you could not fight, child,” he said gently, “something so strong your only choice is to flee or be consumed alive. Try to hold judgment on Tylin till you have.” For some reason, Aviendha’s face reddened.

Elayne interrupts with a gay plan to spy on Carridin, and begins weaving disguises for herself, and then Aviendha, and finally for Nynaeve using Illusion. Each illusion is more risqué than the last—she puts herself in the disguise of a Domani, clinging dress and all, and Aviendha as a Taraboner, but when she comes to Nynaeve she depicts the Illusion of a Sea Folk woman, bare-chested as they are only when out of sight of land. Nynaeve is horrified, even though the illusion is of a different woman and she is decently clothed underneath the weave. The amused men close their eyes as directed, but Nynaeve is unable to put a shield between Elayne and the True Source, since Elayne is already embracing saidar. She demands to know if Elayne is drunk, and Elayne drops her weave.

“No,” Elayne said slowly. Color burned in her face, but it was not embarrassment, or not entirely. Her chin rose, and her voice frosted. “I am not.” The door bursts open and a very inebriated Birgitte stumbles in. She goes into the other room to upend a pitcher of water over her head, then returns, complaining that Mat must have a hollow leg to drink so much, and Beslan wasn’t far behind. Elayne and Nynaeve are confused, and worried that Tylin might be upset if Mat is being a bad influence on Beslan, but Elayne is more concerned about Birgitte’s behavior. Nynaeve throws Juilin and Thom out of the room, worried that the two women are about to have a serious argument.

Elayne complains that she is experiencing Birgitte’s inebriation through the bond, which makes no sense—Aes Sedai don’t start giggling every time their Warders have a bit to drink. Birgitte points out that Elayne knows more about the Bond than she, then suggests that it is because they are both women. They return to the subject of Mat, and Birgitte reports that he wants an apology and thanks for what he did in rescuing them from their imprisonment in the Stone of Tear. Nynaeve and Elayne try to insist that they were nearly about to escape on their own, that they had incapacitated the Black Sister on guard and that Bel’al wasn’t even interested in them—his focus was on Rand.

“The Black Ajah.” Birgitte’s voice was flatter than the floor tiles. “And one of the Forsaken. Mat never mentioned them. You owe him thanks on your knees, Elayne. Both of you do. The man deserves it. And Juilin, as well.” Aviendha tells Elayne that she has toh towards Mat for what he did, and more for the way they have handled things. As Nynaeve insists again and again that she will not apologize, Elayne tells Aviendha that she sees her point, and asks for help in figuring out how to make up for her actions. She tells Aviendha that she does not intend to become an Aiel, but that she wants her near-sister to be proud of her.

“I have pride in knowing you,” Aviendha said, touching Elayne’s cheek lightly. “An apology is a beginning, yet not enough to meet toh, now.” As they continue right on talking, ignoring Nynaeve’s protests, Nynaeve thinks that they really should have sent Thom and Juilin to talk to Mat.The next morning at sunup, Elayne and Nynaeve stand in front of the Wandering Woman. Nynaeve won’t stop protesting, but Elayne reminds her that she agreed to their plan. They go inside and are directed to Mat’s rooms. Elayne hesitates at the door but doesn’t let her own reluctance or Nynaeve’s stop her from knocking, and then from going in when there’s no answer. They find Mat asleep on the bed wearing everything but his coat and boots, clearly having collapsed in a drunken heap. Elayne’s hands itch to try to take the medallion from around his neck while he sleeps.

Mat wakes sluggishly, clearly hungover and in pain. Realizing it’s them he asks what Birgitte told them, and Elayne pushes herself to make a start on their apology. She thanks him for saving them, and Nynaeve does as well, although her tone is more obviously reluctant. To her surprised, Mat brushes it off, seemingly embarrassed, saying that the rescue was nothing and they would have freed themselves soon enough. Elayne is infuriated that he would demand an apology and then dismiss it after she had humbled herself to him, but she still stops Nynaeve from physically attacking Mat. Mat, with his aching head in his hands, doesn’t seem to notice.


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