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 42: Easing the Badger
As Perrin and Zarine ride together through busy Illian, Perrin hears the sound of hammers on anvils down a side street. He misses the hammer and tongs in his hands. The sound quickly fades as they ride on. Perrin is surprised by the first bridge within the city but by the third such bridge he realizes that Illian is criss-crossed by as many canals as roads.
As they pass through a great square, Zarine points out the King’s palace against Perrin’s back and another palace as The Great Hall of the Council. She explains Illian’s politics, noting that the King and the Council have always dueled over control. She tells him, calling him “blacksmith” while doing so, that the square is called The Square of Tammuz, where she took the Hunter’s Oath. Zarine tells Perrin that she thinks she will teach him so much that no one notices the hay in his hair. No one seems to take Loial as too much out of the ordinary. For once Loial does not appear to be pleased with the people’s acceptance.
Perrin asks him if he is afraid to find other Ogier in the city. He feels Zarine stir in interest against his back and immediately regrets his question and giving her more information. Loial nods and tells Perrin that their stonemasons sometimes come here. Loial whispers that Ogier from his own stedding sometimes come here as stone masons and shares that Ogier from his stedding are the ones who built a part of Illian. Perrin chooses his words carefully, conscious of Zarine on his back, telling Loial that he does not believe Moiraine would let him be taken from their party. Loial agrees in a now slightly stronger voice.
Loial: I am very useful after all. She may need to travel The Ways again and she could not do so without me.
Loial looks around and says that he does not like this place. Moiraine rides close to Lan and whispers to him that something is wrong in this city. Perrin is just able to make out her words. Lan nods in agreement. Perrin feels an itch between his shoulders and he looks around wondering what it is that he does not see. He looks again at the people, more closely this time. Perrin sees what looks like anger and hatred on one face in every five – and he does not think the people are even aware of it. Zarine feels Perrin tense and asks him why. He tells her that something is wrong though he does not know what. Loial nods in agreement.
The smell of the city changes as they cross it. Perrin identifies the odor as the smell of old chamber pots and privies. Lan suddenly speaks up and says the bridge they are now crossing is The Bridge of Flowers and that they are entering the perfumed quarter.
Lan: The Illianers are a poetic people.
Zarine stifles a laugh against Perrin’s back as the Warder hurries their party toward an inn. A pair of young boys take their horses as Perrin frowns up at the inn’s sign. A white striped badger dances on its hind legs with a man following behind carrying a silver shovel, and it reads “Easing the Badger.” Perrin thinks to himself that it must reference a story he has never heard.
In the common room, a woman with a low cut dress is dancing and singing on a table top. As Perrin realizes what she is singing about, his face grows hot. Zarine is nodding to the music and grinning. Her grin then widens when she looks at Perrin.
Zarine: Why farmboy, I did not think I ever knew a man your age who could still blush.
Perrin glares at her but stops himself from saying anything that he is sure will be stupid if he says it. He tries to stop listening to the singing girl in order to get the red out of his face. The innkeeper looks startled when she sees their party and hurries over to speak with Moiraine, calling her Mistress Mari. She asks quietly if her pigeons have not arrived safely. Moiraine answers that she has been away but that she is sure the pigeons have arrived and that everything reported has been noted.
Moiraine tells her that the Badger was quieter when last she passed through and the innkeeper agrees, saying that she had to hire the singing girl to distract people from fighting. Moiraine asks if something has occurred to make people more irritable. Nieda, the innkeeper, looks thoughtful before suggesting that the cause might be the Lords visiting more frequently as of late. She then suggests that perhaps the hard winter might be a thing that makes people angrier.
Moiraine seems to consider what Nieda says before next asking her what has occurred out of the ordinary in Illian of late. Nieda replies that Lord Brend’s ascension to the Council of Nine is something one might consider unusual. Nieda says that she cannot remember ever even hearing his name before the winter but he that he arrived to the city from somewhere near the Murandian border and was raised just inside of a week. Nieda tells them that it is said he is a good man, the strongest of the nine on the Council, and that all take his lead now.
Nieda then admits that sometimes she has strange dreams of Lord Brend in strange places, walking on bridges hanging in the air. She then says her dreams are foolishness before adding that they come every night anyway. She then adds that Bili, her nephew, says that he has the same dreams – though Nieda dismisses this as her nephew hearing her dreams and copying them as his own. Moiraine tells Nieda that she might do Bili an injustice. Perrin stares at Moiraine because she sounds shaken and afraid.
The innkeeper takes them to their rooms as Moiraine asks her about whatships might be sailing from Illian for Tear at first light. Nieda laughs and tells her that the Council of Nine forbade any ships to sail from Illian toward Tear a month ago and likewise for any ships to arrive at the docks in Illian from Tear. She suggests that the Sea Folk might be paying it no mind, though, before adding that there are currently no Sea Folk ships in the harbor. Nieda says that all the talk is of war with Tear but that from what she has heard from the soldiers, they are looking north toward Murandy.
Perrin is surprised at the size of his room but he does not unpack his saddlebags and anticipates that the night will be restless. He thinks that if Moiraine is frightened about something, he should be terrified. He is surprised though to find himself neither frightened nor terrified, but instead he feels excited and almost eager. He feels like a wolf just before a fight.
Perrin is the first of their party to return to the common room except for Loial. The Ogier tells Perrin that the inn has an Ogier room and that apparently every inn in Illian has one in the hope of gaining Ogier customers when the stonemasons are in the city. Perrin asks if he learned whether any Ogier from his stedding are in the city. Loial replies that they were but that they left during the winter with their work unfinished.
Loial: I do not understand it. The masons would not have left work undone unless they were not paid, and Nieda said it was not that. One morning they were just gone though someone saw them walking down the Moredo Causeway in the night.
Loial tells Perrin that he does not like the city, and that being there makes him uneasy, though he cannot say why. Moiraine arrives in time to reply that Ogier are sensitive to some things. Lan is with her, looking worried, and Zarine follows soon after with freshly washed hair. Nieda arrives with their dinner and Moiraine advises all of them to eat as any meal could be their last. Nieda asks if they would like her to stop the girl from singing, so that they can eat in quiet, but Lan tells her no. The girl was singing about a merchant who has lost his carriage, his cloak, his boots, his gold, the rest of his clothes, in succession, and is now wrestling a pig in the mud for a meal.
Zarine asks the group what is wrong, saying that she knows something must be, before adding that she has not seen so much expression on Lan’s face since meeting him. Moiraine sharply tells her that she is not allowed to ask questions. Zarine asks what she will tell her and Moiraine smiles, telling her to eat her fish. The meal goes on in near silence after except for the songs drifting across the room.
After Nieda takes the dishes and places an array of cheeses on the table, the stink of something vile lifts the hackles on the back of Perrin’s neck. It is the smell of something that should not be and he has smelled it twice before. Perrin peers around the common room uneasily as the girl continues to sing. Perrin looks at his companions, Lan and Moiraine in particular, and they give no reaction to anything. Perrin knows that the Aes Sedai and Warder can sense as trolloc or myddraal when one comes within a couple hundred paces. The smell of wrongness is not going away, though.
Perrin studies the room again and notices some men crossing the floor. He had not noticed them before. Six men, with ordinary faces, are walking toward where he is sitting. He starts to look away when it comes to him that the stink of wrongness is coming from the six. Abruptly the six men have daggers in their hands as if they have realized that Perrin sees them.
Perrin: They have knives!
He throws the cheese platter at the men and the common room erupts in confusion. Lan leaps to his feet and a ball of fire erupts from Moiraine’s hand. Loial snatches up his chair like a club and Zarine dances to one side, cursing. Perrin is too busy to notice much of what anyone else is doing as the six seem to be looking straight at him with his ax hanging from a peg up in his room. He seizes a chair and rips a leg from it, throwing the rest at the men. The six are trying to reach Perrin with their blades as if Lan and the others are only obstacles in their way. It is a tight tangle where Perrin is only able to knock blades away, with his wild swings posing as much of a threat to his friends as to the attackers.
Perrin sees Moiraine standing to one side with frustration on her face. They are all so mixed together that she can do nothing without endangering friend as well as foe. None of the knife wielders as much as glance at her. Panting, Perrin manages to knock one of the men in the head so hard that he hears bones splinter. Abruptly he realizes they are all down. Though the fight went on only moments, Perrin feels as though it lasted a quarter of an hour.
Lan’s face is grimmer than usual as he searches the bodies. Moiraine and Zarine are both staring at Perrin, with the latter doing so as she pulls one of her knives from the chest of a dead man. The smell of wrongness is gone now, as if the smell died with the men, and Moiraine mutters that they were Gray Men and after Perrin.
Nieda laughs at the mention of Gray Men, as though they are children’s tales, but Moiraine tells her that a man may walk in the Shadow without being Shadowspawn. Nieda does believe in Darkfriends but she tells Moiraine that she thinks the men are more likely to be thieves.
The dark-eyed singer asks Moiraine if she is Aes Sedai and apologizes for the offense she might have caused with her songs. Moiraine tells her to sing what she wishes and adds that she has heard rougher songs than any she would sing. Moiraine does not look pleased that the Common Room now knows she is Aes Sedai. Moiraine grabs her cloak and moves quickly to the door. Lan moves quickly to intercept her where they then speak quietly. Perrin can hear them as though they are whispering right nextto him.
Lan: Did you mean to go without me? I pledged to keep you whole Moiraine when I took your bond.
Moiraine: You have always known there are some dangers you are not equipped to handle, my gaidin. I must go alone.
Lan attempts to argue but she cuts him off and instructs him to heed her. She warns him that should she fail, he will know it, and that he will be compelled to return to the White Tower. She adds that she would not change that fact even if she had time to do so. She instructs him to take Perrin with him if that happens as the Shadow has now made his importance to the Pattern known, if not clear.
Moiraine: I was a fool. Rand was so strongly ta’veren that I ignored what it must mean that he has two others close by him. With Perrinand Mat, the Amyrlin may still be able to effect the course of events. WIth Rand loose she will have to. Tell her what has happened, my gaidin.
Lan: You speak as if you are already dead.
Moiraine: The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills.
Moiraine left and went out into the night.
“Easing the Badger.” I wonder what Jordan was going for here?
As with Tear and the newly minted High Lord Samon, we learn that Illian has a new member of its Council of Nine named Lord Brend and that said Lord now kind of runs the entire show in Illian in the same ay that High Lord Samon seems to be running things in Tear. That seems… ominous.
The Ogier in Illian just up and left in the middle of the night. Did they learn something about Lord Brend? Did they learn something and decide to just let the human deal with it on their own without any help or insight? Were they told to leave? I really want more information here.
We also learn that people in Illian have shared dreams about Lord Brend. Have we encountered that before? Yes. The people in Rand’s camp, near the beginning of this novel, were sharing Rand’s dreams. Moiraine explained that powerful channelers can kind of impose their dreams on the people around them. The implication here is that Lord Brend must be a powerful channeler.
Gray Men attacked Perrin in the inn. Perrin’s wolfy senses notice them before Lan and Moiraine’s One Power senses (wolves notice Grey Men while the Shadow’s assassins can avoid being noticed by channelers.) Finally… FINALLY… it occurs to Moiraine that Perrin and Mat are pretty important in their own right. Moiraine is supposed to be incredibly astute. She knows that multiple ta’veren in the same village is unheard of – especially when you factor in them all being the same age. The fact that she just kind of overlooks this for almost three books is some of Jordan’s sloppiest writing. It’s not in character for Moiraine to do that. She needs a better motivation for overlooking this phenomenon than simply “Rand was soo strong.”
[My suggestion, as a fix, would be to make being ta’veren way less uncommon. Instead of ta’veren being a one in ten million type of deal, it could be a one in 100,000 type of deal. You could also make it more overtly temporary for a lot of those people, too. If it were less uncommon, “it’s just a coincidence” is more plausible.]
The attack was a pretty fun moment for Perrin. He rips a chair apart with his bare hands and then clubs a man to death using a chair leg. Not to be outdone, Zarine kills one of the Gray Men, too. I am enjoying their relationship at this point in the story. If Moiraine killed one of them with a fireball, then it means Lan killed the other three. That ratio feels about right.
Moiraine is on her way to do something that she seems to believe is likely to end in her own death. My guess is that it has something to do with Lord Brend, though we do not know for sure. I also don’t think her plan of Lan taking Perrin back to the Tower makes a lot of sense. She seems to view someone’s ta’veren status as a weapon that can be wielded rather than as something the Pattern is wielding. Point being, if what we have learned about the Pattern is correct, then “the Pattern” wants Perrin where he is for some reason and it’s likely that “the Pattern” simply would not let Lan take Perrin back to the White Tower.