The Dragon Reborn (Chapter 54): Into the Stone

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 54: Into the Stone

Mat decides as he peers into the moon shadows that the rooftops of Tear are no place for a sensible man to be at night time. A little more than fifty paces separate of broad tiled street separate his roof, three stories above the paving stones, from the Stone.

“But when was I ever sensible?”

Mat sees a wall to his right and so far, that wall seems the best path onto the Stone, though it’s not a path he is going to be overjoyed to take. The roll of fireworks, or what had been the roll of fireworks before he worked on it in his room, shifts on his back as he moves. It is more of a bundle, jammed together as tight as he can make it, but still too big for carrying around on rooftops in the dark. He studies the Stone from the shadow of a chimney.

The wall’s path to the Stone is a pace across, wide enough to walk, but the fall to either side is long. He tells himself he can climb it, just as he climbed cliffs in the Mountains of Mist when he was younger. He sees how far he has to climb and decides the wall is one hundred paces up, or maybe even one hundred and twenty. It is the one way he has found. Mat thinks to himself that not even Rand would climb this, but then he blinks, and sees that some fool up ahead of him is climbing it and that person is halfway up already.

“Fool is he? Well I’m as big a one because I’m going up, too.”

Mat suddenly worries that the man in front of him will probably set off an alarm that gets him caught. He complains again that this is a terrible way to win a wager and he thinks to himself that he will want a kiss from all three women, even Nynaeve. He shifts to peer toward the wall, looking for a spot to climb, when suddenly he finds steel across his throat. Without thinking, Mat knocks the blade away and sweeps the man’s feet out from beneath him with his staff. Someone else kicks his own feet away and he falls almost on top of the man he had knocked down. He growls to himself that if his bundle of fireworks falls onto the street that he will break their necks. His staff whirls, connects with two people, just before suddenly he feels two lades at his throat. Mat freezes, arms out flung. The points of short spears press into his fresh just short of the point of bringing blood. Mat follows the spears to the faces holding them, but their heads are shrouded and veiled, faces hidden except for their eyes.

Mat puts on a wide grin, complaining inwardly about his lack of luck in running into real thieves, and tells the people who have caught him that he will not trouble them in their work. He suggests that they let him go his way so that they can go their own. They do not move and he thinks to himself that he does not have time for this. Then he thinks to himself that it is time to toss the dice, though for a chilling moment the words in his head were strange. Mat tightens his grip on his quarterstaff laying down beside him and almost cries out when someone steps hard on his wrist.

Something about the boot tugs at his memory. He eyes the figure standing on his wrist, all the way up, trying to make out cuts and colors, but the man seems all shadows. Mat sees the veil across his face and pauses over that. Suddenly he realizes that these are Aiel and says so aloud, asking what Aiel are doing here.

A deep man’s voice speaks up and says that they are Aiel. Mat gives a start not realizing that he spoke aloud, and another voice tells him that he dances well for one caught by surprise – a woman’s voice. She tells him that perhaps another day she will have time to dance with him properly. The spears are pulled back just before hands haul him to his feet. Mat shakes them away and brushes himself off, as if he is standing in a common room instead of on a rooftop. Mat thinks that it always pays to let the other man think you have a steady nerve. Mat hears himself humminig “I’m Down at the Bottom of the Well” before stopping.

The deep man’s voice asks him what he is doing here. He explains that they have watched Mat for sometime, and watched him studying the Stone from every side. The man asks him why he is doing this. Another man steps out of the shadows, wearing baggy britches, saying that he could ask the same of all of them. The newcomer appears to be shoeless for better footing on the tiles. He goes on saying that he expected to find thieves, not Aiel. Holding a slim staff, he warns them not to think their numbers frighten him, and then tells them that his name is Juilin Sandar and that he is a Thief Catcher. He demands to know why they are on the rooftops staring at the Stone. Mat shakes his head wondering how many people could possible by on the roofs tonight and that all that remains is for Thom to suddenly appear playing his harp.

The older Aiel man’s voice tells Juilin that he stalks well for a city man and asks why he is following them. He says they have stolen nothing and asks why he has looked so often at the Stone tonight himself. Sandar’s surprise at this last comment is evident. Just then, four more Aiel rise out of the dimness behind him. With a sigh he leans on his slender staff and says that it seems he is caught himself and that he must answer their questions.

Juilin confesses that he did a thing today that troubles him. As if talking about someone else, he tells the group that he did a thing today that part of him believed to be right, though a small voice inside keeps telling him that he betrayed something in so doing. One of the Aiel nods and speaks, naming himself Rhuarc of the Nine Valleys Sept of the Taardad Aiel. He explains that prior to his current position, he was a Red Shield and that sometimes Red Shields must do as he does. Rhuarc explains that he is telling about his own background so that Juilin knows that he is aware of Juilin’s likely character.

Rhuarc: I mean no harm to you Juilin Sandar, of the thief-catchers, nor to the people of your city, but you will not be suffered to raise the arm cry. If you will keep your silence, you will live. If you will not, not.

Juilin asks him why he is here if he means no harm to the city. Rhuarc says simply “the Stone” and it is plain this is all he means to stay. Juilin nods after a moment and tells him that he will hold his tongue. After a moment, Rhuarc turns his attention to Mat and asks why he is watching the Stone so closely.

Mat: I just wanted a walk in the moonlight.

The young Aiel woman presses her spearpoint against his neck. He decides that maybe he can tell them some of it and very carefully he moves her steel point away from his neck, with two fingers. He thinks that he hears her laugh softly. He tells them, trying to sound casual, that some friends of his are being held prisoner inside, and that he means to bring them out. Rhuarc asks if he is planning to do this alone and Mat replies dryly that there does not seem to be anyone else.

Mat: Unless you care to help. You seem interested in the Stone yourself. If you mean to go into it, perhaps we could go together. It is a tight roll of the dice any way you look at it, but my luck runs good.

He thinks to himself that he ran into black veiled Aiel without getting his throat cut so that must mean his luck is running quite well. He really thinks it might help to have a few of them in there with him and says aloud again that they could do worse than betting on his luck. Rhuarc, calling him “Gambler,” tells him that they are not here for prisoners. Another of the Aiel men suddenly speaks up and tells him that it is time. Rhuarc replies yes, to a man he calls Gaul, and then turns his attention back to Mat and Sandar. He warns both of them not to give the arm cry and then leaves. Mat gives a start that they disappeared so quickly and wonders whether he could even know if they left someone behind to keep an eye on him.

Mat tells Juilin that he hopes the other man does not plan to stop him. He slings the bundle of fireworks back on his back and tells Juilin that he means to go inside by him or through him, if necessary.

Juilin: These friends of yours, they are three women?

Mat frowns at him and asks him what he knows of them. He tells Mat that he knows they are in the Stone and that he knows of a small gate where a thief-catcher could gain entrance with a prisoner in tow, to take him to the cells. Juilin tells Mat that these are the cells where his friends must be. He tells Mat that if he will trust him, he can take him that far, and that whatever happens after that is up to chance. Mat tells him that he has always been lucky while wondering if he wants to trust him. He does not like the pretense of coming in as a prisoner because it seems too easy for that pretense to become a reality. Mat decides though that it is not as much a risk as trying to climb the wall in the dark.

He sees the Aiel climbing into the Stone and thinks that even if that one man made it inside earlier without raising the alarm, the Aiel numbering a hundred or more surely would cause one. He decides that their incursion might work as a diversion for his work in the cells. Mat agrees but warns him not to decide that he is a real prisoner at the last minute.

Mat: We can start for your gate as soon as I stir the ant hill a little bit.

Grabbing the fireworks bundle, he tells Juilin to wait for him. Mat starts toward the Stone and finds an arrow slit in the wall. The slit is dark and there appears to be no one on the other side watching. He then watches the bundle into the slit, as far as he can, because he wants as much of the noise to be inside the Stone as he can manage. Pulling aside a corner of the cloth, covering the bundle, he finds the fuses. In his room he had cut the longer fuses to match the shortest ones. He wanted all of them to go off at once. He takes a hot piece of coal from the small tinder box and blows on it to make it glow, before touching the hot coal to the fuses. He then snatches up his quarterstaff and darts along the wall, thinking now that what he is doing is crazy. As he runs, he thinks that he does not care how big a bang it makes, he could break his fool neck doing this.

The roar behind him is louder than anything he has ever heard before in his life. A monstrous fist punches him in the back, knocking all of the wind from him. He lands on the wall top, barely holding on to his staff as is sprawls over the edge. He lays there for a moment thinking that he used up all of his luck in not falling off the wall. He looks back toward the arrow slit and its shape now seems different and larger, though Mat does not understand how or why. He thinks now about whether he should return to Sandar, who might now be gone, or waiting for him with soldiers, or whether he should return to the arrow slit where a way in side might now exist.

Mat returns back to the way he had just come. The arrow slit is larger with the thinner stones in the middle now gone. The hole is just big enough for a man, so Mat pushes through and lands inside. He then runs a dozen steps before at least ten Defenders of the Stone appear, shouting and in confusion. Mat curses himself for being a fool. He remembers that drawing their attention to this spot is why he set the things off in the first place. He had no time to make it back out to the wall so he hurls himself at the confused soldiers, quarterstaff spinning, before they have time to see that he is there.

As he thinks that he just cost Egwene in the others whatever chance they might have had, he suddenly finds Sandar beside him in the tumult. His slender staff whirls even faster than Mat’s. Caught be surprise by two staffmen, the soldiers go down quickly. Sandar stares at the fallen men and says aloud that htey will have his head before turning to Mat and asking what it was that he did, describing it as a flash of light and stone.

Juilin: Did you call lightning? Did I join myself to a man who can channel?

Curtly, Mat tells him that they were fireworks. He hears more boots coming and tells Sandar to take him to the cells before more Defenders arrive. They dash quickly down a side hall. Somewhere above, gongs begin to sound an alarm and more boots echo through the Stone. Mat thinks to Egwene and the others, as he runs after Juilin, that he is coming.

“I’ll get you out or die, I promise it.”

“““““““““““

Alarm gongs sound throughout the Stone but Rand does not pay any more attention to them than he had to the roar that preceded them. His side aches and the old wound burns, strained almost to tearing by the climb up the fortress. He wears a smile of both anticipation and dread. He knows that what he had dreamed of is close. He believes that the dreams and the taunting will all be over soon, one way or another. He laughs to himself as he runs through the dark corridors of the Stone of Tear.

“““““““““““

Egwene winces when she puts a hand to her face. Her mouth has a bitter taste and she is thirsty. She asks herself why she is dreaming about Rand and Mat, with the latter shouting that he is coming. She opens her eyes and stares at the stone walls around her before screaming that she will not be chained again. Nynaeve and Elayne are beside her in an instant, both with bruised faces of their own. Their presence is enough to still her screams, at least. She is a poisoner but not alone and not collared. She tried to sit up and required their help, now remembering every unseen blow when she had been captured. She decides not to think about a capture that had all but driven her mad and decides that she needs to think instead about how they might escape.

The cell is empty except for the three of them and one torch. She asks the other two if they are still shielded and Elayne nods. Despairingly, Nynaeve tells her that she has tried and tried and tried. She tells Egwene that one of them is sitting outside, Amico. She says that she thinks on of them is enough to maintain the shielding once it has been woven. Nynaeve then barks a laugh saying that for all the pains they took – and gave – to capture them, they are now acting as if the three of them are of no importance at all. She has none of them has been to see them for any reason in the hours since throwing them into the cell.

Elayne says the word “bait” with her voice quavering as she does so. She reminds Nynaeve that Liandrin said they are bait. She answers asking bait for what or for who before wishing that whomever she is bait for chokes on her. Egwene says Rand’s name and tells them that she dreamed about him, and Callandor, and she says that she thinks he is coming to the Stone. She thinks to herself, though, in question, that she does not know why she dreamed of Mat and Perrin. She remembers a wolf from her dreams but she knows somehow the wolf was Perrin. Egwene tells the other two that they will escape somehow and reminds them that if they can best the Seanchan that they will escape Liandrin. Nynaeve and Elayne exchange looks before Nynaeve tells her the other thing they know.

Nynaeve: Liandrin said thirteen myrddraal are coming, Egwene.

Egwene thinks to herself that it would be better to die than to be made to serve the Dark One. She feels her hand tighten around the pouch on her belt and realizes that their captors did not take the ter’angreal stone ring. Elayne sighs and says that they were not even important enough to search. Elayne asks if she is certain that Rand is coming. She adds that she would prefer to free herself but admits that if anyone is able to defeat Liandrin and all the others, it is Rand. She says aloud that The Dragon Reborn is meant to wield Callandor and that he must be able to defeat them. Nynaeve tells both of them that he will not be able to free them if he is lulled into a cage right after them, or if they have a trap set for him that he does not see.

Nynaeve: Tel’aran’rhiod will not help us now, not unless you can Dream a way out of here.
Egwene: Perhaps I can. I could channel in tel’aran’rhiod. Their shielding won’t stop me reaching it. All I need to do is sleep.

Elayne frowns and says she will take any chance and asks how she can channel in the World of Dreams. Egwene says she does not know but says it is worth a try. Nynaeve reminds her that she saw Liandrin and the other the last time she visited ter’aran’rhiod and reminds her further that they saw her, too. Egwene replies that she hopes that they are there.

Egwene closes her eyes, clutching the ter’angreal. Sleep comes. She is wearing a blue silk dress as soft breezes cares her unbruised face, sending the butterflies swirling among the wild flowers. Her thirst and the aches of her body are gone. She reaches out to embrace saidar and is filled by it. Reluctantly she makes herself release it and then she closes her eyes and pictures the Heart of the Stone. When she opens her eyes, she is there, but she is not alone. She sees Joiya Byir in front of Callandor, but her shape is insubstantial and the light of the sword seems to shine through her.

The Black Sister turns in surprise to face Egwene. She asks how and points out that Egwene is shielded. Egwene quickly weaves the flow of Spirit that she remembers they used against her, to cut Joiya Byir off from the Source. Her eyes widen in surprise. Before she can move, Egwene weaves air to hold her in place. Joiya, clearly afraid, says aloud that Egwene must have a ter’angreal. Joiya scolds her and asks if she thinks it will do her any good. She adds that this place is a dream and that whatever she does here will not matter in the real world. Then she threatens to take the ter’angreal from her, herself, once she wakes.

Joiya: Be careful what you do, lest I have reason to be angry with you when I come to your cell.

Egwene smiles at her. She asks if she is certain that she will wake at all and asks why she did not wake once Egwene shielded her. She muses that perhaps Joiya will not be able to wake for so long as she is shielded here. Egwene then tells Joiya that she met a woman once who obtained a scar in the World of Dreams and says she knows that what happens here is still real when you wake. The Black Sister begins to sweat and Egwene wonders if the woman thinks she is about to die. Most of Egwene’s bruises during her capture were given by Joiya. She says aloud that a woman who is willing to give beatings should not mind too much receiving one. She then weaves a flow that strikes the Darkfriend Sister’s hip and tells her that she will remember it when she wakens, if Egwene allows her to waken.

Before knowing what it is that she is doing, Egwene ties off her flows so that they are maintained without her actively keeping them maintained. She studies what she has just done and thinks she can do it again. She stops the phrasal beating and tells her that she needs to learn to cut throats as she does not like doing this. Then she leaves the woman shielded and held in place as she sets off to look for the cells from this location.

“““““““““““

The Stone corridor falls silent from the sound of screaming as Young Bull’s jaws crush the two legs’ throat. The blood is bitter on his tongue. He knows that this is the Stone of Tear though he cannot say how he knows. The two legs lying dead now, with Hopper’s teeth on the other’s throat, had smelled rank with fear as they fought. Perrin thinks that they did not know where they were when they were fighting. They did not belong in the Wolf Dream but they were set to keep him from the tall door ahead with its iron lock. Perrin wipes his mouth and then stares at his hand. He is Perrin again, back in his own body with the Blacksmith’s vest and hammer at his side.

Hopper: We must hurry Young Bull. There is something evil near.

Perrin pulls the hammer from his belt and strides to the door. He says Faile must be here. One blow form the hammer shatters the lock and then Perrin kicks open the door. The room is empty except for a long stone block on the floor. Faile lies on that block, as if sleeping. Her body is so wrapped in chains that it takes him a moment to realize she is unclothed. Every chain is held to the stone by a thick bolt. He touches her cheek and she opens her eyes.

Faile: I kept dreaming you would come, Blacksmith.

He tells her that he will have her free in a moment. He smashes one of the chains and it splinters as if made of wood. She says his name and as the word fades from her tongue, her body fades as well and then she is gone.

Perrin: No! I found her!
Hopper: The dream is not like the world of flesh, Young Bull. Here the same hunt can have many endings.

Perrin raises his hammer and strikes the stone block where she had been lying. It cracks in two and rings like a bell. Perrin growls that he will hunt again.

“““““““““““

Alarm gongs send clangs down the corridor. Mat hears the sound of metal on metal and thinks that the Aiel are fighting the Defenders. Lampstands and tapestries line the walls. For once Mat is too busy to put a price on anything. The man he is fighting is good, he thinks, and he wonders further if the man is a High Lord. The man is finely dressed, and not the first so dressed that Mat has faced, but this one is the bet Mat has faced. Mat calls to Sandar, asking if he can make it past him. The other man replies that he cannot and adds that if Mat moves aside to let him past that he will be skewered. Mat tells him to think of something and says the ragamuffin he is fighting is grating his nerves.

The man Mat is fighting, wearing a gold coat, tells him that he will be honored to die on the blade of the High Lord Darlin. It is the first time he has spoken. As he threatens Mat and Sandar, Mat interrupts him by saying that he does not think he would like that, and then aggressively attacks him. Mat knows he cannot keep this aggression up for long but he does not need to. He switches a swing in mid-attack and knocks the man on his back before then striking him on the head knocking him out.

Mat: The stories did not tell you that being a hero is such hard work. Nynaeve did always find a way to make me work.

Sandar stands beside him and says wonderingly, looking down on the High Lord, that he does not look so mighty lying there. Mat peers down the hall and sees a man trotting down the corridor. He thinks to himself that it looks like Rand but dismisses it as crazy. Mat brings his staff up to his shoulder and feels it crack the skull of a High Lord who had been creeping up behind him. Muttering to Juilin that you cannot beat luck, he tells the thief catcher to take them down a stairwell to the cells.

Mat steps over the High Lord as the thief catcher muttersthat he knows the door to the stairwell must be here somewhere.

REACTION:

Well this chapter was a high takes, page turning, action-packed, thrill ride.

Mat apparently planned to use the fireworks as a distraction. He succeeds but not in the way he intends because unbeknownst to him, in addition to the noise and the light, the fireworks also kind of work like dynamite and blow things up. Rand discovers that fireworks = gun powder in Cairhien, in The Great Hunt, but Mat really learns to use it as such. Ka-Boom.

Did you notice that one of the Aiel is Gaul… the guy Perrin rescued form the cage? Or that Rhuarc is an Aiel that the super girls met? I bet the woman Aiel was Avienda.

The Stone of Tear only stood for three thousand years, apparently, because the good folks from Emond’s Field never had a reason to take it before this chapter.

Perrin – in his wolfy Young Bull form – rips a dude’s throat out using his teeth. When he switches back to his human body, he still has blood in his mouth. That’s intense. Will that translate to the TV screen for Amazon? Who knows. Icky violence notwithstanding, I wish Robert Jordan had written about 10 outrigger novels of Young Bull and Hopper going on dope adventures in the Wolf Dream. I love these POVS.

Perrin finds Faile and then she disappears. I guess it couldn’t be that easy.

The story has been a bit heavy on the damsels in distress, of late, so it is fun to see Egwene figuring out how to rescue herself. I love wildly erratic and violent Egwene. Pragmatically speaking though, she probably should have killed or stilled Joiya, right? The bad gals need thirteen Black Ajah to turn the three of them to the Shadow. At least make them send off for another one or two Black Sisters to buy some time. But that probably won’t be necessary because of…

Mat – the star of the book at this point. Elayne sent him to a death trap in Caemlyn with her mom and kind of knew it when she did it (she knew about the toxic politics which could get Mat arrested, not the Forsaken), but he got through it. Mat then crossed the continent to find and rescue them in Tear. He is knowingly attacking a fortress, by himself, that has never fallen to any armies in its history. This character is just awesome.

Despite the book being named after him, Rand has hardly been in it. We get a brief glimpse of him from a distance, climbing a wall, and again in the corridor, and then a very short POV, in this chapter. His internal thoughts seem quite… unwell… at this point.

No sightings of Lan or Moiraine yet. But they’re here somewhere.

Onward.

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