The Great Hunt (Chapter 45): Blademaster

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 45: Blademaster

Early in the cold morning, before most of Falme is awake, Nynaeve sits on an upended barrel warming her hands. Min sits on a doorstep across the way. Elayne is huddled in an alley down the street. A large sack pilfered from the docks lays neatly folded beside Min. Nynaeve thinks of hte other two are her army and thinks also that there is no one else.

She catches sight of a sul’dam and a damane climbing the street. Both of the woman, in the bracelet and in the collar, are yawning sleepily. The few people from Falme sharing the street with them avert their eyes and give them a wide berth. Nynaeve looks toward the harbor and cannot see another Seanchan. She looks at Min and sees her lean back against the door. This is a signal to Nynaeve that her way is clear also. Their arrangement had been for Min to put her hands on her knees if she saw anyone. Nynaeve sees Elayne bouncing on her toes and worries that she or Min might give them away by displaying nervousness. She resolves that if somethin goes wrong, she will somehow draw attention to herself while Min and Elayne escape. She is not sure what she will do but she thinks to herself that she will not let them take her alive.

Sul’dam and damane come up the street until they are bracketed by the three waiting women. Nynaeve gathers all of her anger. She had forced Min to tell her how sul’dam enforced her will. She knows Min held some of it back but what she told was enough to heat Nynaeve to white hot fury. In an instant, she is filled with the One Power. She knows that there is a glow around her for those who can see it. The pale skinned sul’dam gives a start and the dark damane’s mouth falls open. Nynaeve gave them no chance. She uses a trickle of the power to whip crack the color with the air. The collar falls to the cobblestones. She heaves a sigh of relief. The sul’dam stares at the fallen collar as if at a poisonous snake. The damane put a shaking hand at her throat. Before the sul’dam has a chance to move, the damane turns and punches her in the face. The sul’dam’s knees buckle and she almost falls.

Elayne: Good for you!

Elayne is already running forward as is Min. Before any of them can reach the two women, the damane takes one started look around and then runs as hard as she can. Elayne calls after her but Nynaeve tells her to be quiet. Nynaeve then stuffs a handful of rags into the still gaping mouth of the sul’dam. Min shakes out the sack amid a cloud of dust and hastily puts it over the sul’dam’s head, covering her to the waist. The few people who are out in Falme are carefully avoiding looking at them. The hooded woman begins to struggle by Nynaeve and Min put their arms around her and wrestle her into a nearby alley. Leash and collar trail across the cobble stones behind her.

Nynaeve snaps to Elayne to pick up the collar. The Daughter Heir picks up the silver metal gingerly as though she feels it might bite her. Nynaeve and Min push the sul’dam from one alley, to another, and finally to a rough wooden shed that once housed two horses. As soon as they are inside, Elayne drops the silver leash and wipes her hands on some straw. Nynaeve channels another trickle and the bracelet falls to the dirt floor. The sul’dam squalls and hurls herself about. The women yank the sake from the woman. She wheezes, blue eye teary from dust on the sack. She darts for the door but they catch her within the first step. She is not weak, but they are three, and when they are done she is stripped to her shift and lying in one of the stalls, bound hand and foot with stout cord, with another cord used to keep her from forcing the gag out.

Min says that the sul’dam’s dress might fit Nynaeve but she does not think it will fit either herself or Elayne. She tells Min that she was never really an option, anyway, as the Seanchan are too familiar with her face. Nynaeve hurriedly removes her clothes and puts on the sul’dam’s dress. Min helps with the buttons. The boots and the dress are tight and the hem hangs almost too the ground – lower than sul’dam wear them – but the fit would have been worse on any of the others. She snatches up the bracelet and closes it around her left wrist. The ends merge and it seems solid.

Nynaeve tells Elayne to get the dress. They had died a pair of dresses – one of hers and one of Elayne’s – to as close as they could to the gray color the damane wear. Elayne does not move except to stare at the open collar and lick her lips.

Nynaeve: Elayne, you have to wear it. Too many have seen Min for her to do it. I would have worn it if this dress had fit you instead.

Elayne sighs and says that she knows. She says she wishes that she knew more of what it does before putting it on. She draws her red-gold hair out of the way and asks Min for help. Min begins undoing the buttons on Elayne’s dress. Nynaeve bends down to pick up the collar.

With only a moment’s hesitation, she snaps the collar around the neck of the sul’dam. The blue-eyed woman glances from the leash running from her neck to Nynaeve’s wrist and then glares up at Nynaeve contemptuously. Min tells Nynaeve that the collar does not work that way but Nynaeve barely hears her. She is aware of the sul’dam now. She is aware of the cords on the other woman’s wrists and ankles, the rank fish taste from the gag in her mouth, and the straw pricking at her through her shift.

Nynaeve tells the woman that she will not hurt her as long as she answers questions honestly. The sul’dam’s mouth curls in a sneer. It takes Nynaeve a moment to realize the sul’dam is laughing. Aware of the sensations of the other woman, in a bundle inside of her own mind, Nynaeve tries adding to the other woman’s sensations.

Suddenly the other woman stops laughing. Her eyes bulge, she fans her hands in a vain effort to ward off something, and she humps through the straw as if trying to escape. Nynaeve gapes and then rids herself of the extra feelings she had added to the woman’s sensation. The sul’dam sags and weeps. Elayne asks Nynaeve what she did to the other woman and Min stares, her mouth hanging open.

Min tells them that an a’dam is not supposed to work that way. She tells them that the Seanchan genuinely believe that it will not work on a woman who cannot channel. Nynaeve seizes the silver metal leash and pulls the sul’dam up enough to look her in the eyes. Nynaeve tells the woman that she wants answers and she warns her that if she does not get those answers, she will make the woman believe that she has the hide off of her. Stark terror rolls across the sul’dam’s face. Nynaeve’s stomach heaves as she suddenly believes the sul’dam is taking her literally.

If she thinks I can, it is because she knows.

Nynaeve takes a firm hold of herself and then hardens her face. She asks the sul’dam if she is ready to answer her questions. When Nynaeve removes the gag, the woman babbles that she will not report them. She begs Nynaeve to take the collar from her neck and offers her gold. Nynaeve tells her to be quiet and the woman snaps her mouth shut. She asks the sul’dam her name and the woman replies Seta. She begs.

Nynaeve realizes that she can never make Elayne wear this collar. She tells Elayne – who is down to her shift – to put her own clothes back on. When Elayne tells her that someone has to pretend to be a damane, Nynaeve tells her that Seta will. Seta protests about not wanting to be seen by Nynaeve cuts her off and says that they do not want to be seen, either. She tells her that nobody ever really looks at a damane, anyway, so she has ample reason to keep her head down and to help them avoid notice. Seta faintly agrees to help. Nynaeve has to remove the bracelet so that they can get Elayne’s damane dress on the sul’dam. The dress does not fit well. Nynaeve hopes that people really do not look at damane. She puts the bracelet back on reluctantly.

Elayne gathers up the extra clothes and makes a bundle. Nynaeve asks Elayne and Min if they are ready and both women say that they are.

Seta: Where are you, we, going? If I may ask?
Elayne: Into the lion’s den.
Min: To dance with the Dark One.

Nynaeve sighs and tells Seta that they are going where all the damane are kept and that they intend to free one of them. Seta is still gaping in astonishment as they hustle her out of the shed.

“““““““““““““““““`

Bayle Domon watches the rising sun from the deck of his ship. Yarin asks him what he will tell the Seanchan if someone asks why they are all aboard the ship. Domon tells him to just be certain that there is an ax ready to cut every line holding them in the port. He also tells Yarin that if any man cuts a rope before the woman are on the ship that Domon will personally split that man’s skull. Yarin asks him what they will do if soldiers arrive before the women. Domon tells him to settle his bowels. He then says that if soldiers arrive first, he will make a run for the harbor mouth.

Domon peers back up into the town where the damane are held.

“““““““““““““““““`

The breeze from the sea brings a smell of breakfast cookfires to Rand’s nose. He and the other four are riding into Falme, but they are spaced out to create the appearance that they are not arriving together. Rand sees Hurin stick his head out of a horse stable and motion toward him before pulling his head back inside. Rand turns Red, his bay stallion, that direction.

When Rand gets to Hurin, he tells Rand that Ingtar is down a narrow passage. Hurin reports that Ingtar says that they will leave the horses here and go the rest of the way on foot. As Rand dismounts, Hurin motions and tells him that Fain went down that street. As Rand reaches Ingtar, he does not look much like a Shienaran Lord in his dirty worn out clothes. His eyes have a feverish intensity, though. Rand ties up his horse and muses over what to do about his saddle bags. He dared not leave the Dragon’s Banner behind where Verin might find it. He decides to leave the banner in side his saddle bags – with his saddle. Mat and Perrin approach next. Rand looks at the group and thinks that they all look like villainous beggars.

The five men stroll out toward the dirt street as though they have no particular destination in mind. They walk in a bunch but it is Hurin who leads them, sniffing the air, and then turning up one street and down another. Hurin mutters, grimacing, that Fain has criss-crossed the town leaving his smell everywhere. Hurin says that the stink is such that it is hard to tell old from new, though he adds that some of the stink cannot be older than a day or two.

Rand’s breath catches as he sees a woman in a dressed worked with lightning bolts holding the leash of another woman, in a gray dress, with downcast eyes. Mat asks incredulously if that is a damane and Ingtar snaps that this is how they were described. He asks Hurin they are going to walk through every street in the town. Hurin protests that Fain’s smell is everywhere.

They come to an area where the stone houses are three or four stories high. They round a corner and Rand is taken aback by the sight of a score of Seanchan soldiers guarding a large house at the end of the street. Two women in lightning marked dresses ae talking at the doorstep of another house across from it. A banner flaps in the wind over the house the soldiers protect. It is a banner of a golden hawk clutching lightning bolts. The officer among the soldiers is in resplendent armor with a helmet that looks like a spider’s head. Then Rand sees a pair of grolm among the soldiers guarding the house. Mat has no idea what the animals are but Hurin also remembers them from the Portal Stones world he visited with Rand and Loial.

Ingtar snaps at them to not stare at Seanchan monsters and to instead focus on finding Fain. Rand looks down the road toward the harbor. He sees tall hulking ships. Hurin says that Fain has been where they are now a lot. He tells Ingtar that Fain may have been here as recently as yesterday, perhaps even the previous night. Mat suddenly clutches his coat with both hands and tells them that the dagger is inside the tall house with the banner. Ingtar says that they are after the Horn, not the dagger, but Rand points out that if the dagger is inside, Fain and the Horn likely are also. Ingtar agrees but adds that they will never know from outside. Ingtar feverishly says that he means to have the Horn in his hands before nightfall.

Ingtar: We are going to take back the Horn now. Now!

Rand asks him how. Ingtar points out that there seems to be gardens behind each of these houses. He says that sometimes men are so busy guarding their front that they neglect to guard their back. He tells the others to come with him. Ingtar heads straight for the nearest narrow passage between two of the tall houses. Hurin and Mat trot right after him. Rand and Perrin exchange looks before following, too.

They follow Ingtar down an alley until they are even with the banner in front. Ingtar grabs onto a garden wall and pulls himself up high enough to peak over. Ingtar reports that there is only one guard and that he is not even wearing a helmet. He tells the others to count to fifty before following him. Ingtar swings a boot to the top of the wall and disappears inside before Rand can say a word. Mat counts slowly while the rest of them wait nervously. They crawl up and in moments all four of them are inside.

For a moment, Rand cannot find Ingtar. Then he sees the Shienaran flat against the house motioning them on with sword in hand. As the others join Ingtar in a crouch against the house, Mat continues muttering that he can feel the dagger inside. Rand asks Ingtar where the guard is and Ingtar whispers back that he is dead. Ingtar says that the man was overconfident and never even tried to raise a cry. Rand draws his sword as they start up the back steps. The others also draw their swords. Inside they hear voices from what smells like a kitchen. Ingtar motions for Mat to lead.

Mat points toward a winding set of narrow stairs. They climb a flight and Mat leads them toward the front of the house. The furnishes at the front of the hall are sparse. All around them Rand can hear the sounds of people stirring, slippers scuffing on the floor, and soft murmurs of speech. He does not see anyone, though. Mat points to a big pair of sliding doors ahead and whispers “in there.” Hurin opens the door and Ingtar leaps inside, sword ready. There is no one inside. The group hustles inside the room and Hurin quickly closes the doors behind them.

At one end of the big room stands a tall circular cabinet. A small table is on the other end. Rand hears Ingtar gasp but Rand only feels like heaving a sigh of relief. The curling golden Horn of Valere sits on a stand on the table. Below it, the ruby on the hilt of the ornate dagger catches the light. Mat darts to the table snatching both Horn and dagger. Sheer awe is in Ingtar’s voice as he says “the Horn of Valere.” He pulls his hand back with a shiver of excitement.

Ingtar: It is, by the Light it is! I am saved!

Hurin looks through the window and reports that the soldiers are still in front. He says that the two grolm are as well. Rand joins him and looks out. Rand’s words die in his mouth. He can see over a wall into a larger garden. A large group of women are there in pairs, linked by silver leashes. One of the women with a collar around her neck looks up. Rand is too far to make out her face clearly but for an instant it seems that their eyes meet. The blood drains from Rand’s face. Egwene.

Mat asks him what he is talking about and says that Egwene is safe in Tar Valon. Rand tells Mat that she is here. Rand tells him that she is across the street and wearing one of those collars. Perrin asks if he is sure. When Perrin comes to the window, she has already turned to walk away. Perrin says that he cannot see her and he points out that his eyes are better. The two women – one of whom Rand is certain is Egwene – disappear into one of the houses that face the next street over. Rand tells the others that he has to get her out.

A slurring voice speaks into the room. He announces that the group is not who he expected. The man with the shaven head who enters the room is wearing a long blue robe that trails behind him. His fingernails are so long that Rand wonders if he can handle anything. The two men standing behind him have only half of their dark hair shaved. Screen topple at either end of the room to reveal doorways, each crowded with four or five Seanchan soldiers – armored and sword in hand.

One of the men with the shaven head man announces that they are in the presence of the High Lord Turak. Turak makes a brief motion with a blue lacquered nail and he cuts off instantly. Another servant steps forward with a bow and begins undoing Turak’s robe.

Turak: When one of my guards was found dead, I suspected the man who calls himself Fain.

Turak says that Fain has always wanted the dagger. Turak holds out his arms for the servant to remove the robe. When the robe is removed, Rand is surprised to see the now bare chested man is quite muscular. Turak tells the group that it will please him to kill one or two of them for disturbing his morning. He announces matter-of-factly that those who survive will tell him of who they are and why they came. Turak stretches out a hand without looking and a servant places a sword hilt in it.

One of Turak’s soldiers stalks into the room and reaches for the Horn. Rand is not certain whether or not to laugh. His arrogant face seems completely oblivious to their weapons. Mat puts an end to it. As the Seanchan reaches out his hand, Mat slashes it withthe ruby hilted dagger. With a curse, the soldier leaps back looking surprised. And then he screams. His scream chills the room. His slashed hand turns black and the blackness spreads from his hand to the rest of his body. He howls, clawning at his arm. Kicking, jerking, he topples to the floor. He shrieks as his face blackens and his dark eyes bulge like over-ripened plums until a dark swollen tongue gags him. His heels drum on the floor as he gags. Then he is still. Every bit of his exposed flesh is as black as putrid pitch and looks ready to burst at a touch.

Ingtar leaps over the corpse to the soldiers still goggling at the dead soldier. Hurin leaps after Ingtar and the soldiers fall back before them. The Seanchan at the other end of the room start forward but then they fall back at Mat’s thrusting dagger. In the space of heartbeats, Rand stands alone facing Turak who holds is blade upright before him. Turak’s shock is gone and his eyes are sharp on Rand’s face.

Turak tells Rand that he suspected it might come to the two of them. He spins his sword and shows that his fingernails do not seem to hamper him at all.

Turak: You are young. Let us see what is required to win the heron on this side of the ocean.

Suddenly Rand sees a heron on Turak’s blade. He is face to face with a real blademaster. Rand wants to seek the Void. He will need every shred of ability that he can muster and even then his chances of leaving the room alive will be small. He has to leave alive. Egwene is almost close enough for him to shout to her and he has to free her somehow. He also knows that saidin waits for him in the Void. He worries that if he channels, the other women will feel him doing so and wonder about it. He does not want to survive Turak only to die facing damane. He cannot die before Egwene is free.

Rand raises his blade and Turak glides toward him. Blade rings on blade like a hammer on anvil. From the first, it is clear to Rand that Turak is testing him and then testing him harder. Quick wrists and quick feet keep Rand alive. Without the Void he is always have a heartbeat behind. The tip of Turak’s sword cuts Rand just below his eye. He cuts Rand across Rand’s sleeve, also. He can also feel warm dampness spreading down his ribs. There is disappointment on the High Lord’s face. He steps back with a gesture of disgust. He asks Rand where he found the blade.

Turak: No matter. Make your peace. It is time to die.

He comes on again. The Void envelopes Rand. Saidin flows toward him but Rand ignores it. He refuses to be filled with the One Power. He is one with the sword in his hands, with the floor beneath his feet and with the walls and with Turak. He recognizes the forms that Turak uses. They move about the room as if in a dance. Disappointment and disgust fade from Turak’s dark eyes, replaced surprise and then concentration. Sweat appears on his face as he presses Rand harder. Rand knows that it is not enough. He faces a blademaster and with the Void and every ounce of his skill he is barely managing to hold his own. Rand knows that he has to end it before Turak finaly does. He considers using saidin and then rejects it. Rand remembers Lan’s advice about sheathing the sword in one’s own flesh and then rejects it because that will not help Egwene either. He has to end the duel now. Now.

Turak’s eyes widen as Rand glides forward. So far, Rand has only defended. Now he attacks all out. All Turak can do is retreat and defend. In an instant, Rand charges. He does not need Turak’s gasp or the feel of resistance to his cut to know. He hears two thumps and turns his head knowing what he will see. The High Lord lays on the floor, a dark dampness staining the birds woven on the carpets under his body. Turak’s eyes are still open but already filmed with death. The Void shakes. Rand has faced and killed trollocs. Never before has Rand confronted a human being before with a sword, except for practice and in bluff.

I just killed a man.

The Void shakes and saidin tries to fill him. Rand claws free of the One Power. He is surprised to see two servants still kneeling beside the door. He had forgotten them but now he does not know what to do about them. The servants never look at Rand or at each other. Each of the two servants produce daggers from their own robes and places the point to his own chest.

“From birth to death,” they intoned in unison, “I serve the Blood.”

They plunge the daggers into their own hearts. They fold forward almost peacefully. Rand gets to his feet shakily when Ingtar and the others come running back. They all have nicks and cuts. They report that no alarm was given during their fight with the other soldiers. Ingtar announces that they are going now as fast as they can run. Rand tells him to go, and he says Egwene’s name.

Ingtar: You fool! We have what we came for, the Horn of Valere. The hope of salvation. What could one girl count, even if you love her, alongside the Horn and what it stands for?
Rand: The Dark One can have the Horn for all I care. What does finding the Horn count if I abandon Egwene to this? If I did that, the Horn couldn’t save me. The Creator couldn’t save me. I would damn myself.

Ingtar stares at Rand. He says that Rand means that exactly and Rand says that he does. Hurin urgently says that something is happening outside. He says a man just came running up and everyone is milling about like fish in a bucket. He says that the officer is coming inside. Ingtar shouts to go He tries to take the Horn but Mat is already running with it. Rand hesitates and Ingtar grabs him in the hallway. Ingtar tells Rand that he cannot save the girl if he stands here and dies. Rand runs with Mat, Perrin, and Hurin. By the time they reach the bottom of the staircase, Rand hears a man’s deep voice angrily demanding that someone stand up and speak. The servants have their faces to the floor with their hands over their heads. They do not stir at all as Rand and the others hurry by. Rand is relieved to see that they are breathing at least. They cross the garden at a dead run climbing over the back wall rapidly. Ingtar curses when Mat tosses the Horn of Valere ahead of him and tries again to take it when they drop outside. Mat snatches it up too quickly though saying that it is not even scratched as he runs ahead up the alley. More shouts rise from the house they had just left. A woman screams and someone begins tolling a gong. Rand whispers to himself that he will come back for her somehow.

REACTION:

I have no idea why this is not two separate chapters. The first half of this chapter with Nynaeve’s army capturing the sul’dam was long enough to be its own chapter. Maybe Jordan just couldn’t come up with a chapter title? Let’s talk about this though.

Nynaeve’s Plan:

Something tells me that Nynaeve and Min have been in some fights a time or two. You don’t get to have Nynaeve’s temper without ending up in a few fights. Lest we forget, she got into a fight earlier in this book while she was still in the White Tower. That was the event that Min whispered about, Nynaeve overheard, and then the Wisdom accidentally used the Power to knock Min off a stool she was sitting on. This chapter gives us a Nynaeve in “a white hot fury.”

And Min just has that vibe of having been in a scrap or two, at least to me.

The plan was to free the damane, tackle a sul’dam, tie her up, take the a’dam, and walk into the damane house dressed like one of the Seanchan so that they can walk right back out with Egwene. It’s a good plan and so far it is working. I think Nynaeve gets lucky, though. She took the collar off of a woman who was not yet broken to the a’dam. My guess is that she freed one of the Aes Sedai. If she’d taken the collar off of a Seanchan born damane, she likely would have been met with screaming and panic from the damane and an alarm being sounded.

Domon is doing his part and waiting on them. I need more Domon/Nynaeve team-up. Let’s go Wisdom. Get your team to the boat!

Ingtar’s Plan:

I cannot decide how to feel about Rand’s rescue mission. Given what we have learned about the Seanchan, and the degree to which the locals have been beaten down, it is not too surprising that they would be caught flat-footed by something like this. My guess is that the guard that Ingtar kills in the garden is *really* good with his sword. The odds of the Seanchan needing more than just him in the back were realistically quite small. They might also have been willing to let a single guard die in exchange for luring a small group inside to capture them. In any case, if Mat’s dagger were not what it is, nobody in Rand’s group escapes alive even after getting inside. So it’s hard to fault the Seanchan preparation too much.

Is it realistic that Rand beat an actual blademaster after a few months of training from Lan? Maybe? Lan is undoubtedly one of the best swordsmen in the world. He started training Rand almost immediately after they left the Two Rivers. Rand is naturally gifted. Rand has seen actual combat with his sword already – trollocs no less. Rand also unintentionally surprised Turak during the fight via not using the Void at first and then abruptly changing tactics to an all out attack. Had Turak survived Rand’s charge, he probably wins. But he did not survive.

I also think there’s a bit of a wildcard at play here with Rand’s ta’veren nature (i.e. built-in plot armor.) Maybe Turak did something in the fight he might not have done but for Rand’s influence. The other more far out wildcard theory is that Rand learned more about using his sword when he lived all of the various iterations of his life via the Portal Stone to Falme.

I am not certain which aspects of a real world culture are reflected by the behavior of the servants in this chapter… but yeesh. Hawkwing’s descendants picked up some monstrous cultural quirks overseas. Also they tortured Egwene. That will not be forgiven.

Rand sees Egwene. She probably sees him. That seems like a “bending of chance” ta’veren thing to me. Seeing her changed his willingness to leave Falme after finding the Horn and the dagger. Maybe seeing him does something for her in return. Will he rescue her? Not if Nynaeve gets there first, I suppose. Of course, Rand does not know that the Wisdom is on a recue mission of her own. Nynaeve will tear down the entire Seanchan Empire if it means getting her babies home to the Two Rivers where they belong.

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