Welcome back to my re-read, recap, and reaction to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. This post will only have spoilers through the current chapter.
You can find my previous chapter recaps HERE.
Chapter 29: Seanchan
Geofram Bornhald ignored the burning houses and the bodies sprawled across the street. Child Byar and a guard of one hundred ride on his heels – half the men Bornhald has with him. Bornhald’s legion is too scattered for his liking, with Questioners having too many of the commands, but his orders to obey the Questioners had been explicit.
There had been only scattered resistance to the Children of the Light in this village. The Inn was still standing. A gibbet was on the village green, hastily built, and it held about thirty bodies – including small bodies. Even Child Byar stares at that in disbelief. Byar calls out to Muadh, a man with a face scarred badly due to once being a captive of Darkfriends. Bornhald asks him if his men did this or if it was the Seanchan. Muadh says it was neither. He carefully answers, giving descriptions of those involved, notes they were wearing Taraboner clothing, and casually points out how each of the descriptions matches that of a member of the Children. Bornhard growls about Questioners and spits. Bornhald has heard of Questioner tactics but this is the first time he has been faced with the bodies of children. He orders Muadh to cut them down.
Byar points out that the Taraboners and the Domani they have encountered do not put up much fight. He says they snap when cornered but cower as soon as anything snaps back.
Bornhald: Let us see how we do against the invaders, Byar, before we look down on these men, yes?
The prisoners wear a defeated look that was in place before the Children arrived. Borhald tells Byar to have Muadh pick out a prisoner for him to question. Bornhald requests that they find an officer, if possible, to tell what he has seen without embroidery but young enough to have not yet grown a full backbone.
Bornhald goes inside the inn and finds a table. He believes that he needs to know more about the invaders. Bornhald knows that the invaders call themselves The Seanchan and the Hailene, those who come before in the Old Tongue. They also call themselves the Rhyagelle, Those Who Come Home. They also speak of Correne, The Return, and it is almost enough to make Bornhald believe the tales of Artur Hawkwing’s armies come back. No one knows where the Seanchan came from other than that they landed in ships. Bornhald’s requests for information form the Sea Folk have been met with silence. All that Bornhald has learned about the Seanchan has been learned from men like those held prisoner outside – broken, beaten rabble, who speak wide-eyed and sweating. Those like the men outside describe men who come into battle riding monsters and those who fight with monsters by their sides. They also say that the Seanchan use Aes Sedai to rend the earth under the feet of their enemies.
Bornhald hears boots at the doorway. Byar is accompanied by a Child of the Light, Jeral, who Bornhald believed to be a hundred miles away. Byar informs Bornhald that Muadh is speaking with a young man outside, now, and that Child Jeral has just ridden in with a message. Bornhald waves for Jeral to begin.
Jeral says that the message is from Jaichim Carridin. Bornhald instructs him not to recite the message, verbatim, but to tell him what Carridin wants instead. Jeral uncomfortably tells Bornhald that Carridan believes he is moving too many men, too close to Toman Head. Carridan’s message says that Bornhald is to turn back at once and ride toward the heart of the plain. Bornhald tells Jeral to go get food and to wash up. He instructs the young soldier to return in an hour to receive messages to carry back. He waves the young man out.
Once Jeral is gone, Byar suggests that perhaps the message is correct and that there are more Darkfriends to root out on the plain. Bornhald slaps the table and asks “what Darkfriends?” telling the other soldier that all he has seen are craftsmen worried they will burn them out. He asks Byar about children being hung as Darkfriends. Byar recites that ‘the sins of the mother are visited to the fifth generation and the sins of the father to the tenth’ but he looks uneasy as he says it. Even Byar has never killed a child. Bornhald asks Byar why he thinks Carridin has ordered the Children to put off wearing white. Byar replies that he must have his reasons. Bornhald tells Byar that when Jeral rides, he will not ride alone. He says that there are Darkfriends here but that they are on Toman Head. Byar looks troubled but before he can speak Muadh appears with one of the prisoners. At the sight of the prisoner, Bornhald draws his dagger and begins trimming his nails.
Bornhald: Now, young man, you will tell me everything you know about these strangers, yes?
Word begin to pour out of the prisoner.
The long swells of the Aryth Ocean make The Spray roll, but Domon’s spread feet balance him. He holds a long tube to his eye and looks out at the large vessel pursuing them. The ship is slowly overtaking them. Domon can see the coast line of Toman Head looming to the east. One of the crewmen, Yarin, asks him if it’s a strangers’ ship and Domon replies “Seanchan.” Yarin groans. Domon commands to sail into the more shallow waters where he believes the bluff Seanchan ship cannot follow.
Domon has stopped and sold fireworks in fishing villages since sailing from Tanchico. Along the way, he began hearing about strangers who use lightning in battle and rend the earth beneath the feet of their enemies. Domon thought this was nonsense until he saw the blackened ground himself. He has now seen that blackened ground in too many villages to continue doubting. Monsters fight alongside the Seanchan and some even say the Seanchan are monsters themselves – with heads like huge insects. In Tanchico, no one had even known what the invaders called themselves. Taraboner soldiers spoke confidently of driving the invaders into the sea. In the coastal towns, though, it was different. The Seanchan tell the confused villagers there that they must swear again oaths that they have forsaken, though never explaining when they forsook the oaths or telling what the oaths mean. The young women were examined one by one and some were taken aboard ships and never seen again. A few older woman, some guides and healers, have also vanished. The Seanchan choose new mayors and councils. Anyone who protests having no voice in the choosing are hung, or they burst suddenly into flame, or they are just brushed aside like yapping dogs.
When the people are thoroughly cowed, when they have kneeled and made oaths to obey the Forerunners, await the return, and to serve those who come home, the Seanchan sail away. They usually never return. It is said that Falme is the only town they hold fast. In some of the villages and towns, the people return to their former lives once the Seanchan are gone. But in most places, the people eye the sea nervously and attempt to hold to the oaths that they have been made to swear – even if they do not understand those oaths. Domon has no intention of meeting any Seanchan if he can avoid it.
Domon is raising the glass to see what he can see when abruptly the surface of the sea erupts in fountaining water and flame one hundred paces from his starboard side. Moments later, another column of flame splits the sea on the other side. As he is spinning to stare at that, another bursts up ahead. Yarin suggests that they might be able to get to the shallow water before the Seanchan ship can close but Domon shakes his head and says that if they do that they might not be lucky enough to drown.
Domon orders the ship be brought into the wind and the sail taken down. He orders it done quickly. He watches the Seanchan ship put a longboat over its side with ten rowers. It carries armored shapes and two women crouched in the stern. The first to climb aboard The Spray is one of the armored men and Domon sees immediately why some of the villagers believe the Seanchan themselves are monsters. The helmet looks very much like a monstrous insect’s head with thin red plumes that look like feelers. The wearer seems to be peering out through mandibles. It is painted and gilded to increase the effect.
The armored figure removes his helmet and Domon stares. ‘He’ is a woman. Her dark hair is cut short, and her face is hard, but there is no mistaking it. Domon has never heard of such a thing except among the Aiel and the Aiel are well-known to be crazed. Domon is also disconcerted that the woman looks so much like the women he has seen before. He thinks that if she were in a dress, no one would look twice. The other soldiers from the longboat follow the woman onto the deck.
The Seanchan woman surveys the ship arrogantly and then picks Domon out as its captain. She fixes him with a stare and asks if there are any women among his crew or passengers. She speaks with a soft slurring that makes her hard to understand. Domon answers that he has no passengers and that there are no women in his crew. The two women, dressed as women, crawl up from the longboat. One of them women is drawn by the other by a leash. The leash goes from the bracelet of the first woman to a collar worn by the second woman. The woman, calling herself Egeanin, in the armor approaches Domon and tells him to speak slowly saying that he is even more difficult to understand than others in this land. She also tells him she is not of the Blood, not yet, anyway.
Doman repeats himself and tries to speak more slowly. He adds that he is a peaceful trader, that he means no harm to them, and that he wants no part in their war. Egeanin tells Domon that if he is a peaceful trader, he will be allowed to go once he has sworn the oaths again. She notices Domon glancing at the women wearing each end of the leash.
Egeanin: You admire my damane? She cost me dear. She was worth every coin. Few but nobles own a damane and most are property of the throne. She is strong, trader. She could have broken your ship to splinters had I wished it so.
Domon stares at the women and his head is spinning. He cannot believe that anyone could leash an Aes Sedai. He asks aloud if she is Aes Sedai and does not see the casual backhand blow coming. She tells him, dangerously, that name is never spoken. She tells him there are only the damane, the leashed ones. She says they serve in truth now as well as name. Domon struggles to put humility in his voice and says that he intended no disrespect. He says that if he offends, he does so only from ignorance. Egeanin tells him that they are all ignorant. She says that this land was theirs and that it will be again. Domon does not know what to say.
Egeanin tells him that he will sail his vessel to Falme where he and his ship will be examined. She tells him that if he is no more than a peaceful trader, as he claims, he will be allowed to go once he has sworn the oaths. Domon asks her what oaths.
Egeanin: To obey, to await, and to serve. Your ancestors should have remembered.
The Seanchan leave one soldier on Domon’s vessel and the rest sail back on the longboat to their own ship. The Seanchan left aboard The Spray simply sits cross-legged and sharpens his sword but he says nothing. Domon knows that there is no hope of escape as the Seanchan ship sails along behind his own in deeper water. It is a long passage to Falme and Domon finally persuades the Seanchan soldier to speak.
The dark-eyed man’s name is Caban and he has nothing but contempt for anyone on this side of the Aryth Ocean. Domon begins to think that perhaps the talk of Artur Hawkwinig’s armies returning is true. The Seanchan soldier primarily wants to talk about battles, drinking, and women he has known. He is not forthcoming about anything Domon wants to know. Once Domon asked the man about the damane, and the soldier put the point of his sword on Domon’s throat. He told Domon to watch his tongue or he will lose it.
Caban: That’s the business of the blood, not your kind. Or mine.
Caban smiles as he speaks and then returns to sliding a stone against his sword’s edge. The closer that they come to Falme, the more Seanchan ships that Domon begins to see. He sees a few local craft, too, and the sight gives him confidence that Egeanin spoke the truth about letting him go free. At the harbor in Falme, though, Domon gapes at the number of anchored Seanchan ships. He tries counting and gives up at a hundred, less than halfway done.
Falme is on a small strip of land at the very tip of Toman Head with nothing west of it except the Aryth Ocean. Tall cliffs stand to either side of the harbor and above them stand the towers of The Watchers Over the Waves. A cage hangs over the side of one of the towers with a man sitting in it despondently. Domon asks who that is and and Caban tells him that is the first watcher. He says that is not the same one who sat in the cage when they first came but he says that every time the cage occupant dies, they choose another. Domon asks why.
Caban: They watched for the wrong thing and forgot when they should have been remembering.
Spray sails into the quieter waters of the harbor. Domon cannot decide if Falme is a large town or a small city. He guides Spray to a place at one of the docks and wonders if the Seanchan might buy some of his fireworks. Once docked, Domon’s ship is searched under Egeanin’s direction. the damane is part of the search. Down the dock, a creature appears. It is hulking with a leathery gray-green hide, a beak of a mouth, and a wedge shaped head. It also has three eyes. The man with the beast seems to be directing it with hand signals.
Domon shifts and wonders what the Seanchan and damane are searching for on his vessel. Eventually Egeanin leads the men back onto the dock. She has something wrapped in a piece of silk. Domon gets to his feet slowly and suggests that her people might be interested in purchasing his fireworks.
Egeanin: Perhaps, trader. You will come with me.
There is an air of suppressed excitement about her that makes Domon feel uneasy. The cobblestone street climbs a slope leaving the harbor behind. Domon notes in surprised that the people of Falme seem to be going about their business as if the Seanchan are not even there. Domon notices that the locals bow when they see Seanchan passing and remain bowed until the Seanchan are gone. He is surprised to see that many of the locals are openly wearing swords and daggers. Domon is so surprised about the armed men that he speaks aloud his surprise to Egeanin that the people are on their side. She is initially puzzled but then discerns that he means the swords.
Egeanin: They are our people now, trader. They have sworn the oaths.
She points at a large armed man and he stops abruptly, with one foot in the air, and bows in front of her, not looking up. She asks him if he has sworn the oaths and he replies that he has. She asks what he tells people when he takes his goods inland. The man replies that he tells people that they must obey the Forerunners, await the return, and serve those who come home. She asks him if he ever thinks to use that sword against them. His hands grip his knees, white knuckled, and he tells her that he has sworn the oaths.
Egeanin turns to Domon and says that there is no reason to forbid them weapons. She notes that traders must work and that they need weapons to protect themselves from bandits. She also tells Domon that they allow people to come and go so long as they obey, await, and serve.
They start back up the hill. They pass a group of mounted Seanchan troops riding cats that look almost like horses but with lizard’s scales rippling bronze beneath their saddles. The creatures have clawed feet that grasp the cobblestones. The creature seems too knowing for Domon’s peace of mind. He stumbles and almost falls before continuing on.
They reach the top of the incline. There are houses here that would have man respectable homes for the minor lords in Illian. The largest of these houses has a Seanchan honor guard outside. From the house flies a blue edged banner with a red winged hawk rippling from it. Egeanin surrenders her sword and dagger at the door before taking Domon inside. Her two soldiers remain in the street. Domon begins to sweat. He smells a lord in this.
A servant leads them to what is the largest room in the house. Just inside the door, Egeanin stops. Domon begins to ask where they are and she silences him with a wordless growl. She does not move and holds whatever it is she took from his ship as though it is precious. Domons wonders what that could be. Suddenly a gong sounds and Egeanin drops to her knees, setting the silk-wrapped something carefully beside her. At a look from her, he gets down as well. Two men appear in the doorway at the far side of the room. One has the left side of his scalp shaved, his remaining pale golden hair braided down over his ear to his shoulder. His deep yellow robe is just long enough to let his slipper peer out as he walks. The other man wears a blue silk robe and long enough to trail nearly a span on the floor behind him. His head is shaved bald and his fingernails are at least an inch long, with those on the first two fingers of each hand lacquered blue. Domon’s mouth drops open. The yellow haired man intones that they are in the presence of the High Lord Turak, who leads those who come before and succors the return.
Egeanin prostrates herself with her hands at her sides. Domon imitates her with alacrity. Out of the corner of his eye he sees Egeanin kissing the floor and he decides that there is a limit to imitation. She suddenly stands. He begins to do the same when she growls at him and the man with the braid looks scandalized. He drops back to the floor as he had been before. Domon thinks to himself that he would not do this for the King of Illian and the Council of Nine together.
The man in the blue robe speaks to Egeanin. He asks her if she wishes a payment for the fine specimen. She replies that if the High Lord is pleased, it is payment enough. He tells her that this specimen is rare and mentions new names being given upon the Return.
Turak: Show your self fit and you may shed the name Egeanin for a higher.
Egeanin: The High Lord honors me.
Turak: Yes. You may leave.
Egeanin backs out of the room, pausing at intervals to bow. After she goes, there is a long pause. Domon watches his sweat fall onto the floor. Finally, Turak tells him that he may rise. Domon gets to his feet and sees what Turak is holding. He has the cuendillar seal in the shape of the ancient symbol of the Aes Sedai. Turak asks Domon if he knows what the disk is. Domon replies that he does not know. Turak asks him why he hid it in a secret place on the boat and Domon replies that there are those who would steal old things if he left them easy to find. Turak regards the black and white disk. He tells Domon that it is called cuendillar and instructs Domon to come with him. Domon follows cautiously and is led into another room.
In the other room, with odd furniture, Turak leads Domon to a cabinet. The man with the braid opens it revealing an assortment of figurines, cups, bowls, and vases, with no two alike in size or shape. Domon’s breath catches as Turak sets the disk beside its exact twin. He tells Domon that he collects cuendillar and that only the Empress herself has a finer collection. Domon’s eyes almost pop out of his head because if everything on those shelves is cuendillar, it was enough to buy a kingdom, or to at least found a great house.
Domon puts on a smile and asks Turak to please accept this piece as a gift. Turak’s expression never changes but the man with the braid cuts Domon off with a snap. He calls Domon an unshaven dog who speaks of giving High Lord Turak what Captain Egeanin has already given. He sneeringly says that Domon bargains as if the High Lord is a merchant. He tells Domon that he will be flayed alive over nine days.
Turak silences the man with the braid with a small motion of his finger. The High Lord tells Domon that he cannot allow him to leave because in this shadowed land of oathbreakers, he can find none who can converse with a man of sensibilities.
Turak: But you are a collector. Perhaps your conversation will be interesting.
Turak sits and studies Domon. As the man with the braid glares at Domon, Domon tells High Lord Turak that he is a simple man and a trader who lacks the way of speaking with High Lords. A servant girl enters with a hot cup of a dark liquid. Domon gasps. Her silk dress is so sheer that Domon can see right through it. Turak says that the aroma of kaf is almost as enjoyable as the flavor.
Turak says that he has learned cuendillar is even more rare here than in Seanchan. He asks Domon to tell him how a simple trader came to possess such a piece. He sips his kaf and waits. Domon takes a deep breath and sets about trying to lie his way out of Falme.
Domon gets a long POV section before… Lan? He’s a semi-major character now? Noted. The costumes are obviously different but this situation, at the end of the chapter, makes me think about Westley’s time with the Dread Pirate Roberts.
Turak: “Good night Domon. Good work. Sleep well. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.”
We finally find out what’s going on at Toman Head after getting hints about it for most of this book. Invaders from the other side of the ocean have arrived, in huge numbers, and with vastly superior firepower than the locals. They appear to be the descendants of the armies Artur Hawkwing sent across the ocean one thousand years ago.
I think that the robes, lacquered nails, chaining women who can channel, and riding around on monsters must be something they picked up overseas.
I cannot really think of a parallel to this situation in our modern world. I suppose the hypothetical parallel might be to imagine that the Spanish armada sailed to North America, did not return, scared everyone else in Europe off from the idea of sailing west… but then eventually the distant descendants of the Spanish Armada just show up one day, in a Spanish harbor, hundreds of years later?
We see right away that the Seanchan have figured out how to enslave women who can channel. They call these women damane. They also have essentially naked female servants. That’s obviously pretty awful. But as far as conquerors go, they aren’t overly brutal.
In Bornhald’s POV section, we also see that the Whitecloaks are up to a lot of mischief on Almoth Plain. It appears perhaps – given that they are wearing Domani and Taraboner garb – that they are fomenting fighting by posing as people on both sides? He seems to notice that possibility, too, and wants to learn if it’s true. At this point in the story, if there are any good / redeemable Whitecloaks, Bornhald is the only one. That said, I’m not sure how redeemable Bornhald really is. He sees that small children were hung and Darkfriends and other than temporary disgust just mostly goes along with it. I suspect that Bornhald will not enjoy his visit to Falme if he makes it there.