The Wheel of Time Reread

The Wheel of Time Re-read: The Fires of Heaven, Part 5

Why hello! Fancy meeting you here. Care for a spot of Wheel of Time Re-read? Ah, I knew you would. You’re so adorably predictable!

Today, my chickies, we are covering Chapters 8-10 of The Fires of Heaven, in which we contemplate the intersection of solanaceae mandragora, camellia sinensis, mus musculus and ficus carica, and the myriad ways in which I can mangle Latin and/or scientific classifications. Yay!

Previous posts are here. As always, this and all other posts contain massive spoilers for all currently published books in the Wheel of Time series, so if you haven’t read, don’t read.

We good? Of course we are. Game on!

Chapter 8: Over the Border

What Happens
Nynaeve clings to the back of the wagon, looking at the dust storm in the distance she had raised to escape the brigands that had threatened them. She and Elayne both had been surprised at the fury of it; Nynaeve thinks that her teachers at the Tower had told her that her strength would continue to increase, but she doesn’t think it worth much when she can only channel while angry. She was beginning to regret her choice to leave Tanchico by wagon rather than by ship, but at the time she had thought it better to throw off pursuit by taking the slower route. Juilin hands her a water bottle, and she thinks that the Taraboner hat he had taken to in Tanchico makes him look like he is wearing a cake on his head. She climbs up to the front of the wagon and tries to sit between Elayne and Thom, but Elayne is glued to the gleeman’s side. Elayne gushes to Thom that he drove wonderfully, and Nynaeve debates giving her a thump. Thom looks uncomfortable, and points out that they have more company coming, and Nynaeve sees a column of Whitecloaks heading toward them on the road. Thom pulls over, and Nynaeve greets the Whitecloak leader warmly, but he returns suspicion, asking where they had come from. Nynaeve gives them their cover story of carrying dyes from Tanchico, and the officer demands word from Tanchico. Nynaeve answers more or less truthfully, telling him that Andric was still on the throne when they left, and no, they know nothing of Aes Sedai involved with the troubles there. The Whitecloak officer advises her that they are within the borders of Amadicia, and that they would soon come to the town of Marcedin, and they would do well to walk in the Light there.

“Have you come to move the border?” Elayne asked suddenly and coolly. Nynaeve could have strangled her.

The deep-set, suspicious eyes shifted to Elayne, and Nynaeve said hastily, “Forgive her, my Lord Captain. My eldest sister’s girl. She thinks she should have been born a lady, and she can’t keep away from the boys besides. That’s why her mother sent her to me.” Elayne’s indignant gasp was perfect.

The officer stares at them, and then warns them again to walk in the Light, and leaves. As soon as he is gone, Nynaeve demands to know what Elayne thought she was doing saying that, and Elayne replies that Nynaeve was all but groveling for them. They shout at each other until Thom tells them to keep their voices down, at which Elayne coos to him that he is right, and Nynaeve resolves that whatever had gotten into Elayne, she would get out again. When they reach Mardecin, Thom and Juilin contend strongly that they should take a day to rest, and Nynaeve eventually agrees, though she insists they camp outside the town rather than seek an inn.

Commentary
A short chapter! World may end!

Man, I hate seeing characters embarrass themselves. I’m all squirmy on Elayne’s behalf. Poor Thom. More on this later.

TFOH is right around where I started really loving Nynaeve. Which is kind of odd, seeing as she drives her companions crazy for most of this whole trek to Salidar, but her internal monologue is hilarious to me from here on out. Maybe I’m just easily amused, but her thought about Juilin looking like he had a cake on his head made me chuckle out loud. (Or maybe I chortled.) Her thoughts have this bizarre combination of snarky wit and naïve cluelessness that just cracks my shit up.

TFOH definitely marks a change in the tone of the way her character is written. I’m not sure what the motivation or cause for the adjustment was, but I’m personally glad it happened. While normally I deplore the reduction of a formerly serious character to comic relief (see Kate’s spot-on complaints about Movie!Gimli in The Lord of the Rings), in Nynaeve’s case I don’t think it is a reduction – rather the opposite. I think it makes her a more rounded character, and rescues her from being merely a One Note Harridan. Both she and Mat are frequently used as comic relief, but in a way that (in my opinion) does not neglect the complexities of their characters, or the seriousness of the issues they are dealing with.

Most of the time, anyway. I’m telling you right now, drama and portent and pathos are easy. Comedy? Comedy is hard.


Chapter 9: A Signal

What Happens
After they make camp, Juilin and Thom flip a coin to see who goes into town to purchase supplies, and Thom wins. As he makes preparations to head out, Nynaeve pries up the floorboard in the wagon that hides their money, the jewels Amathera had given them, and the seal Nynaeve had found in the Palace. She thinks that more than anything was what fueled her haste to get back to the Tower, so that it could be taken off their hands. She gives Thom coin to spend, and watches him limp off, annoyed that she cannot Heal it.

When she had left the Two Rivers, it had been to protect young people from her village, snatched away in the night by an Aes Sedai. She had gone to the Tower still with the hope that she could somehow shelter them, and the added ambition of bringing down Moiraine for what she had done. The world had changed since then. Or maybe she only saw the world differently. No, it is not me that’s changed. I’m the same; it is everything else that’s different.

She thinks of how all the Two Rivers folk had changed, and that the main reason she was willing to put up with the Tower and everything it entailed was for the chance to learn Healing. One day she means to Heal Thom’s wound, and even the wound in Rand’s side; surely anything could be Healed if only she were determined enough. She tries to engage Elayne in conversation about the fate of Tanchico and Amathera, but Elayne ignores her frostily at first, and Juilin comments on how pretty Amathera was until both women stare him down. Elayne thaws a little, and they discuss Moghedien obliquely so as not to clue in Juilin. Elayne is worried that Moghedien may be coming after them; Nynaeve tries not to think about the fact that one of the Forsaken now has cause to hate her personally, and reassures Elayne that she can’t have any idea where they are by now. Thom returns with supplies and news: Mardecin is not doing well, and no one is happy about the supplies being sent into Tarabon. Thom cannot figure out what Pedron Niall is up to, which irritates him. Nynaeve is more interested in the lack of vegetables Thom bought, and suggests she and Elayne walk into town themselves. Juilin and Thom start to flip to see which one will accompany them, but Nynaeve squashes this impulse and declares they will be fine alone; the men agree reluctantly, and Nynaeve and Elayne head out. Elayne asks what Nynaeve obviously wants to talk to her alone about, and Nynaeve replies that she wants to talk about Elayne’s behavior toward Thom. Elayne lies that she doesn’t know what Nynaeve is talking about. Nynaeve says she thought Elayne was in love with Rand; Elayne says she is, but he is far away and surrounded by Maidens.

“You can’t think he’ll turn to a Maiden,” Nynaeve said incredulously. “He is a man, but he isn’t as fickle as that, and besides, one of them would put a spear in him if he looked at her crossways, even if he is this Dawn whatever. Anyway, Egwene says Aviendha is keeping an eye on him for you.”

Elayne frets that she should have made sure Rand knew she loved him; in Nynaeve’s private opinion this is usually a good way to make a man run for the hills, unless he says it first. Elayne tells Nynaeve that she thinks Min had a viewing about her and Rand, because she made one too many jokes to Elayne about sharing him. Nynaeve declares this ridiculous, but asks if that’s why Elayne is acting this way about Thom.

“Thom is a man with secrets, Elayne. Remember that Moiraine sent him with us. Whatever he is, he is no simple country gleeman.”

“He was a great man,” Elayne said softly. “He could have been greater, except for love.”

With that, Nynaeve’s temper snapped. She rounded on the other woman, seizing her by the shoulders. “The man doesn’t know whether to turn you over his knee or… or… climb a tree!”

“I know.” Elayne gave a frustrated sigh. “But I do not know what else to do.”

Nynaeve grips her braid and stalks into town, but her temper fades as they chat and shop for vegetables, of which there are precious few even though it’s summer. Nynaeve wonders how the town is going to get through the winter. Then she catches sight of a bunch of yellow flowers hanging upside down and tied with white and yellow ribbon by the door of a seamstress shop, and pulls Elayne aside. Pretending to adjust her shoe, she tells Elayne that the flowers are an emergency signal from a Yellow Ajah eyes-and-ears; she shouldn’t know about it, but a sister in the Tower told her, since she was certain Nynaeve would choose Yellow when she was raised.

“Besides, it has not been used in nearly three hundred years. Elayne, only a few women in each Ajah actually know who the Ajah’s eyes-and-ears are, but a bunch of yellow flowers tied and hung like that tells any Yellow sister that here one is, and with a message urgent enough to risk uncovering herself.”

Nynaeve tells Elayne to follow her lead, and enters the shop. The two women inside gape in surprise to see someone come in, and then the older of the two introduces herself as Ronde Macura. Nynaeve tells her that she wants a dress embroidered with yellow roses, but no thorns, as she does not heal very fast. Macura stares a moment, then tells her apprentice Luci to go make tea from the blue canister, which she tells Nynaeve and Elayne is her best tea while making a circle with her thumb and forefinger, as the countersign. Relieved that she was right, Nynaeve returns it, introduces herself and Elayne, and asks what the urgent message is. Macura nervously says they shouldn’t talk about it until the tea is ready. She babbles aimlessly for a few moments until Nynaeve and Elayne herd her firmly into the kitchen, where she serves them tea, which Nynaeve notes has a cool, minty aftertaste. Nynaeve asks again for the message.

“Ah. Yes.” Mistress Macura licked her lips, eyed them both, then said slowly, “It came near a month ago, with orders that any sister passing through heard it at all costs.” She wet her lips again. “All sisters are welcome to return to the White Tower. The Tower must be whole and strong.”

Nynaeve is like, that’s it?, and starts to ask if there was anything else, then notices Elayne has slumped onto the table, and stares at her cup in horror, feeling herself start to go under. She demands thickly to know what they were given, but Macura only watches her, and Nynaeve loses consciousness.

Commentary
Well, at least Elayne seems to sort of realize that she’s being a dumbass about Thom. I share Nynaeve’s irritation with her, though I do at least somewhat understand the impulse.

A lot of it, of course, has to do with Thom being a “safe crush”, because Elayne knows perfectly well that he would never act on her flirting with him. This is probably at least part of why she’s uncomfortable with Juilin, too (which is something I left out of the summary in these chapters), because she knows he’s not “safe” in this regard.

Elayne’s a little old for this kind of behavior, which in my experience is something you see in girls in more of the thirteen-to-sixteen age range, but I think it’s easy to overlook the fact that up to this point, the Daughter-Heir has led an extremely sheltered life, and however brave a face she may be putting on being suddenly On An Adventure, with the far-from-home and the death-defying and the intermittent kidnappings (what is this, the Supergirls’ fourth capture-and-release? Fifth? I guess it depends on whether you count their Compulsion interlude with Moghedien as a capture, we’ll have to consult the rulebook), it would be more surprising if she wasn’t acting out in some way with a need for comfort and companionship.

In other news, I would like to point out that I’ve just realized the preceding is all one sentence. Take that, Victor Hugo!

This is, I think, the first real glimpse of the intelligence network(s) the Aes Sedai have set up all over Randland, and it’s going to be a major story element from here on out. This ties back into the larger WOT theme of communication and how easy it is not to do any, despite, or because of, having elaborate systems for gathering information in place. Of course, I bet most people don’t get into quite so much trouble with it as the Supergirls do.

Chapter 10: Figs and Mice

What Happens
Elayne realizes she is being carried up stairs, and that she has no control over her body at all. Luci shrieks that she’s awake.

“I told you not to worry.” Mistress Macura’s voice came from above her head. “She cannot channel, or twitch a muscle, not with forkroot tea in her. I discovered that by accident, but it has certainly come in handy.”

Panicked, Elayne tries to embrace the Source, but cannot. She thinks this must have been a Black Ajah trap, and realizes she is trying to scream, but can only make a thin mewling noise. She makes herself stop, and tries to concentrate on embrace saidar. Macura and Luci drop Elayne on a bed and leave, returning with a similarly incapacitated Nynaeve, whose face is slack and wet with tears, but her eyes are furious. Elayne hopes that Nynaeve is angry enough to channel. Macura brings in more tea and an hourglass, and tells Luci to give them another dose when it runs out. Luci moans and wrings her hands, and Macura tells her there’s nothing to worry about as long as she doesn’t forget while Macura goes to make arrangements. She leaves, and Luci goes downstairs, leaving them alone. Elayne spends the hour trying over and over again to channel, and guesses from the sweat on Nynaeve’s brow that she is doing the same. The hourglass runs out, and Luci does not come; soon Elayne is able to move her fingers, and Nynaeve mumbles. She begins to have hope that they can shake it off, when Luci bursts in and forces another dose on them in a near panic, and Elayne loses consciousness again. She wakes again, and berates herself for not being as brave as Nynaeve, and goes back to trying to move or channel. The hourglass runs out again, and again Luci doesn’t come. This time she gets to the point where she can raise her head, sort of.

The door crashed open once more. Elayne lifted her head to stare at it despairingly — and gaped. Thom Merrilin stood there like the hero of one of his own tales, one hand firmly gripping the neck of a Luci near fainting, the other holding a knife ready to throw. Elayne laughed delightedly, though it came out more like a croak.

Thom shoves Luci into a corner and goes to Elayne worriedly, demanding to know what Luci gave them. Nynaeve mutters it wasn’t her, and tells Thom to help her up. Thom hauls Nynaeve erect and helps her shuffle back and forth to walk it off. Thom says Juilin will be up in a moment, and asks if their other captor is likely to bring people back with her. Elayne says it is unlikely, as in Amadicia she would need to keep a very low profile. Nynaeve then wants to know how it is Thom and Juilin are here when she told them to stay at camp. Thom points out that she actually only said to put away the supplies, which doesn’t take two men, so Juilin followed them, and Thom followed Juilin when he didn’t come back. Juilin enters, pushing Ronde Macura ahead of him with his knife, saying he had caught her coming back in; Macura looks like she’s about to either cry or faint. She tells them that she was only obeying orders, and Nynaeve demands to know whose orders, but Macura won’t say. Nynaeve tells her she’d better talk, or she’ll let Juilin question her.

“Some rope to tie her,” he said, grinning a grin so villainous that Elayne almost tried to step away from him, “some rags to gag her until she is ready to talk, some cooking oil and salt…” His chuckle curdled Elayne’s blood. “She will talk.” Mistress Macura held herself rigidly against the wall, staring at him, eyes as wide as they would go.

Nynaeve tells him that he should find what he needs in the kitchen, to Elayne’s shock, but then Macura blurts out that she sends her reports to Narenwin Barda. Elayne remembers Narenwin as a slight, kindly woman who used to let children bring their pets for her to Heal once a week. Nynaeve demands more names, but Macura says she has none, and Nynaeve asks how long she’s been a Darkfriend, serving the Black Ajah. At this, both Macura and Luci are shocked and then outraged, and Macura passionately declares that she serves the Yellow Ajah. Nynaeve and Elayne exchange puzzled glances, for it seemed to ring true; Nynaeve asks if they are not Darkfriends, why did she drug her and Elayne? Macura nods at Elayne, and says Narenwin described her, said she was a runaway Accepted, and that if Macura saw her she was to try to delay her or even capture her, and send word immediately.

“How they expected me to capture an Accepted, I do not know — I don’t think even Narenwin knows about my forkroot tea! — but that is what my orders said! They said I should risk exposure even — here, where it’d be my death! — if I had to! You just wait until the Amyrlin puts her hands on you, young woman! On all of you!”

Amazed, Elayne asks what the Amyrlin has to do with it, and Macura replies that it was on her orders, and that the Amyrlin had said she could use any method short of killing Elayne to capture her. Nynaeve is just as shocked as Elayne, and asks if there was any reason given. Macura says no, and explains that she had planned to send them to Tar Valon drugged, and had already sent a pigeon to Narenwin telling her that they were on their way. Nynaeve asks for the real message from the flower signal, and Macura says she told them the real message, figuring it didn’t matter. Then she starts sobbing and wailing, pleading with Nynaeve to please not let Juilin use the salt on her, anything but the salt! Disgusted, Nynaeve tells Thom and Juilin to tie her and Luci up, and then the men help Elayne and Nynaeve downstairs. Elayne wishes Thom were helping her instead of Nynaeve, and then tells herself she’s being an idiot. She asks Juilin hesitantly what he had been planning to do with the salt and cooking oil.

He looked at her for a moment. “I do not know. But they did not, either. That is the trick of it; their minds made up worse than I ever could. I have seen a tough man break when I sent for a basket of figs and some mice. You have to be careful, though. Some will confess anything, true or not, just to escape what they imagine. I do not think those two did, though.”

She did not either. She could not repress a shiver, however. What would somebody do with figs and mice? She hoped she stopped wondering before she gave herself nightmares.

In the kitchen, Nynaeve takes a deep breath and thanks Thom and Juilin, sincerely, saying she begins to understand why Aes Sedai have Warders. Thom and Juilin stare at each other in amazement, and Elayne is only a little less surprised. Nynaeve begins collecting herbs from various containers on the shelves, and Elayne asks what she thinks the message means, about sisters being welcome to return to the Tower. Thom interjects that the Tower has its own rules and reasons for what they do, and Nynaeve says sourly that mostly it just makes no sense. Elayne then wonders why the Amyrlin would give orders like that regarding her, when she was the one who sent us out of the Tower in the first place.

Nynaeve sniffed loudly. “I can believe anything of Siuan Sanche. I would like to have her for one hour where she could not channel. We would see how tough she is then.”

Elayne is of the opinion that it wouldn’t make much difference in Siuan’s case, but only asks what they should do about it. Nynaeve shows her the canister of white henpepper, and says it will dye hair black.

Various villagers goggle when a coach pulls up in front of Ronde Macura’s shop and two women with their hair wrapped in scarves hurry out and jump inside; the coach drives off before the Children coming idly over to see who they were can ask anything. A while later Therin Lugay comes by with his wagon all ready to take two sick women to Tar Valon, but finds instead Macura and Luci on the beds upstairs, so deeply asleep that he can’t rouse them; he considers the money and supplies Macura had given him for a moment, then decides to see what Altara is like this time of year. Much later, Macura herself finally staggers out of her house and heads to Avi Shendar’s pigeon house, where she sends off a bird with a message tied to its leg.

The bird launched itself north and east, straight as an arrow toward Tar Valon. After a moment’s thought, Ronde prepared another copy on another narrow strip of thin parchment, and fastened it to a bird from another coop. That one headed west, for she had promised to send duplicates of all of her messages. In these hard times, a woman had to make out as best she could, and there could be no harm in it, not the sort of reports she made to Narenwin.

She leaves, and Avi Shendar goes in and looks at the parchment Macura had placed under her message strips to cushion the pen nib, where the impression of what she wrote is still visible. Soon a third pigeon is heading in yet another direction.

Commentary
I don’t have nightmares very often, but when I do have them, they are almost invariably the kind where I am being attacked or menaced by something or someone moving very – very – slowly, and yet I can’t escape them. It’s like I’m trapped in molasses, and I can’t run or fight or scream (or breathe) and it feels like I’m drowning and it is basically a thoroughly terrifying experience that I would like to not have any more, ever, are you listening, brain?

So let’s just say that this chapter is a little difficult for me to read, because what happens to Elayne and Nynaeve with the forkroot is quite literally my personal nightmare, and I am here to tell you it is pretty much the epitome of awful. And if it’s that bad when it’s just a dream, I can’t even imagine how bad it must be to have it actually happen to you – plus with added knowledge that Very Bad Things were virtually certain to follow. I probably would have had a heart attack on the spot.

Forkroot: I remember people got extremely nerdy about discussing how exactly forkroot prevents channeling, and speculating on the implied connection between muscle control and using the Power. All I’m gonna say is, it is a Literary Fact that somewhere there is always a drug that will do exactly what you need it to do to make Plots happen, and really I don’t need more explanation than that.

(Although, “forkroot” to me is a pretty clear reference to mandrake root, which is a member of the nightshade family and has historically been used to make soporifics and narcotics, among other things, and so forkroot is not really a Plot-Induced Drug, as such, or at least not egregiously so.)

Figs and mice: This is one of those things that kind of became a meme/inside joke among Wheel of Time fans. I also seem to recall it precipitated a flamewar on the rec.arts group once upon a time, about psychological torture and the ethics of Nynaeve and Juilin using it on Macura (or rather, the ethics of Good Guys using it, period). If you guys would like to recreate it for fun and profit in the comments, I just ask that you play as nice as you always do, mmwah.

As for me, I’m just going to note, as others have, that ethics aside, Juilin’s method is a real one, which probably has a name I’m not going to Google for, and that Juilin correctly notes that the major problem with using torture to extract confessions/information from someone is that if you scare or hurt a person bad enough, they’ll tell you anything they think you want to hear, whether it’s true or not, which actually tends to the counterproductive when you want, you know, facts.

On the pigeons: I would presume that the second pigeon Macura sent was to another Yellow, probably one of the Salidar faction? Though it seemed like it was an arrangement of long standing, so I don’t know about all that. I have no idea who Avi’s pigeon went to. This is one of those things where basically all I get out of it is Plotty Plots Are Afoot, Yo, and am pretty much content to leave it at that.


I’m pretty much content to leave this post at that, too! Whoo, rah, hey. Be excellent to each other in the comments, have a merry weekend, and see you Monday!

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