In this section, Faile and Mat advance their romantic relationships.
Faile is steadily recruiting help, faster than she would like. Rumour travels quickly among the gai’shain, and some of her new followers may not be very reliable. Faile marches inexorably closer to her death at Galina’s hands when some of her followers are able to steal the Oath Rod. Readers have been told Galina’s plan is to get the Oath Rod, then kill Faile. She is unknowingly charging towards her own murder. This has the effect of creating anxiety over Perrin’s recent treaty; instead of beginning the attack now before Faile gets killed, Perrin is heading the other way to gather Forkroot. What looked like progress now costs precious time that Faile may not have. Reversing expectations like this is a wonderful way to keep the reader invested in the story.
Rolan makes his romantic intentions towards Faile known. His is the third possible means of escape she has before her, the other two relying on Perrin and Galina. Accepting Rolan’s help may end up with her sleeping with him. She further realizes that all of Rolan’s spear brothers would know if she did sleep with him. Despite his claim that what happens when you wear gai’shain white is forgotten when you put it off, she still recognizes that secrets are hard to keep: “If Rolan could be believed they all knew! Hope and danger, all tied together inextricably. What a tangle.”
The very next paragraph is a metaphor for her decision regarding Rolan. This is not only a description of the search for the Oath Rod, but also a description of Faile feeling exposed and dirty, hoping to keep her secrets as best she can when so many know. Covering herself as best as she could with her hands, Faile huddled together with other women wearing Sevanna’s belt and collar – they had been made to put those on again straightaway - huddled for a scrap of decency while Shaido rummaged through the gai’shain tents, tossing everything out into the mud. All Faile could do was think about her hiding place inside the town and pray. Hope and danger, and no way to untangle them. As Rolan advised, Faile will not speak of it again, even to herself, and neither will the other women in her situation, each of them complicit in keeping each other’s secrets.
A disadvantage of participating in Theoryland is that we tend to only give credit to information that is given in the text of the story, so in the past I did not believe Faile had slept with Rolan. In this case, Faile has become an unreliable narrator, refusing to even broach the topic of her affair with Rolan within her internal point of view, and certainly never alluding to it in the text. If what happens while she is wearing white can be forgotten, she has already done so to the extent that she can, and the reader will be none the wiser unless they read between the lines. It’s a wonderful piece of writing that says so much while appearing to say so little.
Mat is having much less luck with Tuon. He buys her a gift of a zebra-like horse, a rare and valued breed. Before he can give it to her, he gives Tuon a nickname: Precious. Mat asks Noal about Jain Farstrider, since he is oddly knowledgeable about his ‘cousin’. Even after keeping his identity secret for this long, it still feels contrived that Jain Farstrider is in the story. It would have been obviously worse had readers been told who he was right away. Tuon cuts through Noal’s melancholy, and just like that, another of Mat’s followers is as much under her control as his. The back and forth tug of war between Mat and Tuon for anything and everything is entertaining, and despite Mat seeming to achieve his goals as the relationship develops, he loses as much or more to Tuon’s influence.
Some Seanchan show up outside the circus tents, and after a brief scuffle, the circus folk pack up and move on before the soldiers come back to cause more trouble. Mat is alarmed that the Aes Sedai are channeling with soldiers right outside, and a confrontation with Joline results in Mat learning part of Setalle Anan’s secret: she was stilled. Learning that she has secrets at all feels only a little contrived, because readers still don’t know whether she was an important Aes Sedai or a run of the mill one. Once again, the brilliant ta’veren mechanism can be used to explain away any number of incredible coincidences such as the high profile list of Mat’s followers.
Create tension by having progress in one plotline result in greater danger in another plotline.