The Wheel of Time Reread

The Wheel of Time Re-read: The Fires of Heaven, Part 14

Happy Monday, bah. Here’s your freakin’ Wheel of Time Re-read post. Now bring me coffee.

Just kidding. I love Mondays. Really. Mondays are my FAVORITE.

You seem unconvinced. Well, fine, don’t believe me then! I was going to tell you all about Chapters 34-35 of The Fires of Heaven, but now I ain’t gonna! Nyah!

Don’t give me those puppy dog eyes! Here, here’s a whole Index of previous entries, go on, read them! They have spoilers for the series and everything! Get lost!

Okay, seriously, stop looking at me like that. I mean it! Hey – okay, quit it – Ahh! Stop being so pathetic and adorable! AAHH! Must – resist… Crap.

Chapter 34: A Silver Arrow

What Happens
Elayne cooks what Nynaeve considers a ridiculously elaborate dinner, and she reflects that she doesn’t understand why Juilin and Thom and Luca always seem to eat at another wagon when it is Nynaeve’s turn to cook. Luca is sitting too close to her, as usual, even though she had moved her stool three times, and spends the meal comparing her to flowers.

“That gown will frame your unfolding bravery to perfection,” he murmured in her ear, “yet not a quarter so well as you display yourself, for night-blooming dara lilies would weep with envy to see you stroll beside the moonlit water, as I would do, and make myself a bard to sing your praises by this very moon.”

She blinked at him, working that out. Luca seemed to believe she was fluttering her lashes; she accidentally hit him in the ribs with her elbow before he could nibble her ear.

She moves her stool again, while Juilin and Thom pretend to notice nothing and Elayne shakes her head. Nynaeve stands up, and Luca looks hopeful, but she thanks him for joining them and says she’s sure Thom and Juilin will appreciate him helping with the dishes. Then she hands him her plate and goes inside the wagon, Elayne following. Inside, Elayne tells Nynaeve that she shouldn’t encourage Luca; astounded, Nynaeve exclaims that the only way she could encourage him less would be to stab him. Elayne disagrees, pointing out that her little coy flight with the stools is the kind of thing that only encourages a man like Luca.

“If you would snap his nose off the way you did the first day, he might give up. You don’t tell him to stop, you do not even ask! You kept smiling at him, Nynaeve. What is the man supposed to think? You haven’t smiled at anyone in days!”

Nynaeve thinks this is unfair, considering everyone had been admonishing her to hold her temper, and changes the subject, asking for the ring. Elayne is concerned at the way Nynaeve keeps going into Tel’aran’rhiod every night except for the meetings with Egwene, but Nynaeve tells her she has more questions for Birgitte, and again tells herself she is not avoiding Egwene. Elayne sighs and hands the ring over, asking Nynaeve to ask Birgitte again to allow her to tell Egwene about her. She wonders why the Wise Ones never come with Egwene when they meet in the Tower, and why Egwene doesn’t seem to want her to even mention it to them, and Nynaeve supposes it is because they have no love for the Tower, even if it weren’t a total mess. She lies down and ruminates on the Luca situation for a moment before falling asleep. In the Dreamworld, she stands among the wagons (where the lions and bears show up, but the s’redit do not), and realizes she is wearing the red dress. She changes it hastily to Two River wool, and Birgitte steps out and asks why she changed. She reflects fondly on a time when she wore a dress like that to distract some guards so Gaidal could sneak by them, and laughs that she won “fifty gold solids” from him gambling that night because he couldn’t stop staring. Nynaeve is primly about to change the subject when Birgitte does it for her, telling her that she has found Moghedien. Heart fluttering, Nynaeve asks if Birgitte can get her close, and Birgitte says she can, but warns Nynaeve that Moghedien is not alone, and she doubts Nynaeve wants to take on five Forsaken at once. Nynaeve is terrified, but determined not to show it to Birgitte, and promises to be silent. Birgitte lays a hand on Nynaeve’s arm, and suddenly they are standing in midair in a black void. Birgitte points below them, and Nynaeve sees Moghedien bent over, listening intently to a group of four people below her in high-backed, elaborate chairs; Nynaeve can hear every word clearly. A “plumply pretty” blonde woman, in a chair carved with acrobats doing things that are not just acrobatics, is in the middle of asking why the stocky blond man with the scar across his face is deciding to be a coward all of a sudden; the scarred man (his chair has carvings of battle scenes and lighting bolts) replies angrily that he is no coward, but if they continue as they have, “he” will come straight for him.

“That has been the plan from the beginning,” said a woman’s melodious voice. Nynaeve could not see the speaker, hidden behind the towering back of a chair that seemed all snow-white stone and silver.

The second man was large and darkly handsome, with white wings streaking his temples. He toyed with an ornate golden goblet, leaning back in a throne. […] “He will concentrate on you,” the big man said in a deep voice. “If need be, one close to him will die, plainly at your order. He will come for you. And while he is fixed on you alone, the three of us, linked, will take him. What has changed to alter any of that?”

The scarred man growls that he doesn’t trust him, and insists on being part of the link, but the blonde woman laughs and points out that “he” will know if the scarred man is linked, since he has a teacher now.

“Next you will ask to include enough of those Black Ajah children to take the circle beyond thirteen, so you or Rahvin must have control.”

The unseen woman chimes in that if Rahvin trusts them enough to let them lead, so can he, Sammael. Why does he begin to quibble now, when he already agreed? Birgitte touches Nynaeve’s arm again, and they appear back among the wagons. Nynaeve asks why she took them away, did Moghedien notice them? Birgitte says no, but she did not like being so exposed; all any of them would have had to do is look up. Nynaeve shivers, and says obviously the two men were Rahvin and Sammael; Birgitte tells her that Lanfear was the one hidden by her chair, and the other woman was Graendal. She tells Nynaeve not to let Graendal’s licentious affectations fool her into underestimating her.

“Graendal is devious,” Moghedien’s voice said, “but not devious enough.”

Birgitte whirled, silver bow coming up, silver arrow almost flying to nock — and abruptly hurtled thirty paces through the moonlight to crash against Nynaeve’s wagon so hard that she bounced back five and lay in a crumpled heap.

Nynaeve reaches for saidar desperately, but Moghedien has already shielded her, and swiftly contorts Nynaeve’s body into a configuration that stops just short of breaking her bones; Moghedien tells her she got the idea for the contortion from Graendal’s chair. Nynaeve tries to step out the dream, but nothing happens. Moghedien can hardly believe Nynaeve actually came hunting for her, as if the first time wasn’t pure luck. Nynaeve snarls at her to do her worst.

“Lucky, you say? If you hadn’t managed to sneak up on me, I’d have striped you till you wailed. I’d have wrung your neck like a chicken.” She had only one chance, if Birgitte was dead, and a bleak one. To make Moghedien so angry that she killed her quickly in a rage. If only there was some way to warn Elayne. Her dying would have to do it.

She continues taunting Moghedien until the Forsaken gags her with Air, and decides that she will turn Nynaeve into a horse, and make it so she is one whenever she comes here. She’ll give her a saddle and bridle, and braid her mane; she doesn’t think Nynaeve will enjoy “their rides”. She asks if the “yellow-haired chit” is with her at the menagerie, and Nynaeve says she is alone; Moghedien crucios her for a few moments and asks again. Weeping, Nynaeve says Elayne ran off with a man in Tanchico, after they heard what happened in the Tower. Moghedien laughs that this is a delightful tale, and she can see what fascinates Semirhage about breaking the spirit. She explains to Nynaeve that there are some things that are stronger in the Dreamworld than in the waking one, and Compulsion, like wounds, is one of the things that last past waking. Which is why Nynaeve is shortly going to wake up and take her friend prisoner. She is gloating about this when suddenly she screams, and Nynaeve sees a silver arrow lodged in her torso right before she is dropped painfully to the ground. Birgitte, stumbling and trying to fit another arrow to her bow, mumbles at Nynaeve to get out of there.

The glow around Moghedien increased until it seemed as if the blinding sun surrounded her.

The night folded in over Birgitte like an ocean wave, enveloping her in blackness. When it passed, the bow dropped atop empty clothes as they collapsed. The clothes faded like fog burning off, and only the bow and arrows remained, shining in the moonlight.

Moghedien sinks to her knees and vanishes as well, leaving the arrow behind. Sobbing, Nynaeve crawls to where the bow lies on the ground and clutches it, crying for Birgitte to forgive her.

Liandrin leaps to her feet as the bedroom door crashes open and Moghedien staggers out, soaked in blood; Chesmal and Temaile immediately jump to aid her, but Liandrin doesn’t move. Moghedien tells Chesmal thickly to Heal her, and Liandrin sneers to herself as Chesmal obeys without hesitation. Moghedien gasps and writhes with the Healing, and afterwards Temaile has to help her turn and head for her room.

Weak, and her back turned.

Liandrin struck as hard as she ever had, with everything she had puzzled out of what the woman had done to her.

Even as she did, saidar seemed to fill Moghedien like a flood. Liandrin’s probe died as the Source was shielded from her. Flows of Air picked her up and slammed her against the paneled wall hard enough to make her teeth rattle. Spread-eagled, helpless, she hung there.

Moghedien calmly moves to stand in front of Liandrin, who stammers that she was only trying to make sure she had “the good sleep”, and cuts off as flows of Air seize her tongue and come within a hair of yanking it out. Moghedien debates aloud whether to rip it out or not, and remarks it is Liandrin’s misfortune that the al’Meara woman makes her think of Semirhage. She ties off the shield on Liandrin with a knot so elaborate Liandrin can’t follow it, and tells her she will search a long time before she finds anyone who can unravel that.

“You thought you had learned something of Compulsion,” Moghedien went on. “I will teach you a bit more.” For an instant Liandrin shivered, Moghedien’s eyes filling her vision as the woman’s voice filled her ears, her entire head. “Live.” The instant passed, and sweat beaded on Liandrin’s face as the Chosen smiled at her. “Compulsion has many limits, but a command to do what someone wants to do in their inmost depths will hold for a lifetime. You will live, however much you think you want to take your life. And you will think of it. You will lie weeping many nights, wishing for it.”

Moghedien slaps her around when Liandrin tries to plead for mercy, and tells her that she will be given as the new scullery maid to the lady of the house, who has certainly not forgotten the things Liandrin had done to her earlier. Liandrin is sobbing by now, and Moghedien tells Temaile to “prepare her” for the servants, but make sure they don’t kill or maim her; she wants Liandrin to live a long time. She heads out with Chesmal, discussing menageries and Ghealdan, ignoring Liandrin’s broken pleas. Liandrin turns to Temaile and tries to convince her to turn against Moghedien with her. For one moment, Temaile seems tempted, but then shakes her head and says Liandrin never knew when to quit, and she will not make the same mistake; she will do what she is told. She smiles, and Liandrin begins to scream.

Commentary
Oof. This chapter hits hard on the action front, after so much vamping in the chapters preceding it. It’s funny how, even with the benefit of eleven books’ worth of hindsight on how reluctant Jordan is to kill off major characters, that what happens to Birgitte and Nynaeve here can still produce a squirmy anxiety in me on their behalf. Not to mention a wince of pain, reading about Nynaeve’s pretzeling. Ow.

Crucio: yeah, I know, you’re like “get your Harry Potter out of my WOT, Leigh Butler!” But seriously, you come up with a one-word term that describes “magically inducing excruciating pain” better than that. I DOUBLE DOG DARE YOU.

I heart Nynaeve, I really do. She’s frequently an idiot, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: when the chips are down, girl is hardcore. Being able to spit in the face of someone who just twisted you up like a Rubik’s cube and is about to turn you into livestock more than makes up for her lack of social skills, if you ask me.

Speaking of which, it’s telling to me that Elayne really doesn’t seem to get that Nynaeve isn’t leading Luca on. Well, she is, but not on purpose. Flirting is like any other game: it takes training and practice to be good at it. And if you never even tried it (and I’m fairly certain it’s been an alien concept to Nynaeve up till now), it can awfully difficult to even realize that you’re in the middle of a match.

At base, it’s a question of perception: if you’re not used to thinking of yourself as an object of desire/interest to others, the indications that others do find you desirable or interesting can fly right over your head. Especially since most social codes dictate that these signs be fairly subtle, at least for people of non-assholish persuasion.

Of course, Luca is not exactly being subtle, here, but that’s just an indication of how divorced Nynaeve’s mental picture of herself is from the way Luca evidently sees her. This is as opposed to Elayne, who by virtue of her looks and rank would probably find it an alien concept not to be found desirable. This is not a slur on Elayne, either (at least it isn’t from me), because each extreme is its own form of blindness, and something both women have to deal with.

Liandrin: Sometimes I am surprised with the amount of sympathy I feel toward evil characters who have bad shit happen to them, like Isendre, but Liandrin is not in that category. She shoulda oughta known bettah. Temaile, while evil and additionally scary (I always picture a giant blue-eyed china doll torturing the crap out of you, eek), sums her up perfectly:

“You have never known how high to lift your eyes. ‘Who reaches for the sun will be burned.’”

So, bye, Icarus! See you in three books or so!

Forsaken Sit-in of Evil Plotting: Even though this is the plot (no pun intended) that drives pretty much the whole of TFOH, I really don’t have much to say about it, since from a hindsight perspective it’s all fairly self-explanatory. It becomes much more relevant in the endgame stages of the novel, so we’ll come back to it then.

Chapter 35: Ripped Away

What Happens
Bored, Elayne watches Nynaeve sleep; she had tried the little Healing she knew on Nynaeve’s black eye just for something to do. Suddenly she notices that tears are leaking from Nynaeve’s closed eyes, and she is whimpering very faintly. She debates whether to try waking Nynaeve, and just as she is about to start shaking her, Nynaeve’s eyes pop open.

Immediately Nynaeve began to weep aloud, the most despairing sound Elayne had ever heard. “I killed her. Oh, Elayne, I killed her with my foolish pride, thinking I could…” The words trailed off in openmouthed sobs.

Elayne asks who, but then someone starts pounding on the door to the wagon. Elayne opens it, and Thom shoves in, carrying a female figure covered in a cloak in his arms. Behind him, Juilin says she was just there all of a sudden, stark naked, right before she collapsed; Thom adds that she’s alive, but only barely. Confused, Elayne pulls the cloak back, and sees with shock it is Birgitte. Nynaeve scrambles up and breathes that she is alive, and tells Elayne to get the men out so she can work. Thom and Juilin roll their eyes at each other, but let Elayne herd them out without complaint. Nynaeve growls curses at Moghedien, working herself up, and Elayne watches with amazement the incredibly complex Healing weave Nynaeve is using. Nynaeve swears she will make Moghedien pay, and then says despondently that it isn’t working; there’s no wound, but Birgitte is fading. She keeps trying, and Elayne says slowly that maybe she can do something that would help.

You were supposed to have permission, but it had not always been so. Once it had been done almost as often without as with. There was no reason it should not work on a woman. Except that she had never heard of it being done to any but men.

Nynaeve thinks she is talking about linking, but Elayne just asks her to let her try. Nynaeve moves away, and Elayne lays a hand on Birgitte’s forehead and channels a complex weave of Spirit, not really understanding what she was doing but imitating what she had secretly watched being done in the Tower. She finishes and sits down, and Nynaeve frowns, examining Birgitte, and asks what Elayne just did. Elayne asks if Birgitte will live, and Nynaeve says she isn’t fading anymore, but it’s too soon to tell. Elayne confesses that she bound Birgitte as a Warder.

The incredulous stare on the other woman’s face made her rush on. “Healing was doing no good. I had to do something. You know the gifts a Warder gets from being bonded. One is strength, energy. He can keep going when other men would collapse and die, survive wounds that would kill anyone else. It was the only thing I could think of.”

After a moment, Nynaeve admits that if any woman could be a Warder, Birgitte could, and wonders what Lan would think of it. She tells Elayne that she will have to keep this secret, and Elayne agrees fervently; an Accepted bonding a Warder was not quite a stilling offense, but it was next thing to it. She asks Nynaeve what happened, and Nynaeve almost begins crying again, but then tells Elayne flatly and in excruciating detail everything that had happened. She curses herself for stupid, foolish pride, and says she deserves to still be back there in Moghedien’s hands, and that would mean Birgitte would not be here. Elayne points out logically that if Nynaeve were still in Moghedien’s clutches, she would very shortly be waking up and shielding Elayne, so all things considered this turned out as well as could be expected. Nynaeve refuses to look at her, and Elayne tells her she is foolish for taking the blame when it is Moghedien’s fault. Nynaeve finally replies that Elayne doesn’t understand.

Her voice sank almost to a whisper. “She… was… one of the heroes bound to the Wheel of Time, destined to be born again and again to make legends. She wasn’t born this time, Elayne. She was ripped out of Tel’aran’rhiod as she stood. Is she still bound to the Wheel? Or has she been ripped away from that, too? Ripped away from what her own courage earned her, because I was so proud, so man-stubborn stupid, that I made her hunt for Moghedien?”

Elayne had hoped that hadn’t occurred to Nynaeve yet, and distracts her by asking if she thinks Moghedien died. Nynaeve doesn’t think so, as the arrow missed her heart, and she is sure the Forsaken will be after them directly. Elayne disagrees; first of all, it takes days to recover from being Healed after a wound like that, and secondly, all Moghedien knows is that they are with a menagerie, and Luca is livid because there are already eleven other menageries in Samara, and three more on their way. She suggests that Nynaeve stop wearing her hair in her trademark braid, and dye it another color. Nynaeve sighs that she is tired of everything, and Elayne tries to get her to sleep, but Nynaeve gets up and says she needs to walk.

At the door she paused. “If she wants to kill me,” she said bleakly, “I do not know that I could make myself stop her.” She went into the night barefoot and sad-faced.

Commentary
I was surprised to discover that there is no step in Campbell’s Hero’s Journey that specifically describes this moment that’s happening here for Nynaeve, at least not as far as I am aware. (I must guiltily confess that I have never read the original text, only summaries or discussions of it. I tried to watch the filmed interview with Bill Moyer the book is basically a transcription of and, uh, fell asleep. But seriously, you know what that film is? It’s two guys sitting… and talking… and talking… and sitting… and THEN, you know what they do? They sit. And they talk! I mean, it’s an interview, I get that, I’m not asking for a car chase scene or anything, but come on. They couldn’t have cut in some photo stills or stock footage or illustrations, or shot some crappy reenactments, or let us watch some paint dry, or SOMETHING besides two guys? Sitting? And talking? For hours??)

Um. So that was… a tangent. Back to WOT!

The moment I’m talking about generally falls within The Road of Trials, obviously, but this is a moment that is particular unto itself: the trial that the hero not only fails, but fails in a way that brings her close to despair.

In three-act structure screenwriting, on the other hand, this does have a name. It usually happens in Act II, and is called the “midpoint”, where the protagonist reaches his lowest point and seems furthest from reaching his goal.

Now, obviously Nynaeve is not the protagonist of WOT (that would be Rand), nor can this be remotely considered the midpoint of the series as a whole (which would of necessity have to involve the protagonist, i.e. Rand. I tentatively place the series’ midpoint in TPOD, which may explain why I hate that book so much, but a case can also be made for it being Rand’s capture and torture in LOC). However, if you consider the Nynaeve vs. Moghedien story arc separately from the other plot threads, this is quite definitely the midpoint of it. The climax and resolution (for slightly odd values of “resolution”, but whatever) of the arc, of course, happens at the end of TFOH, when Nynaeve confronts and captures Moghedien, finally decisively besting her, but this chapter is where Nynaeve is furthest from accomplishing that goal.

And it happens in a classic way, when the protagonist has it brought home to her for the first time that not only might the cost of her struggle be a higher price than she is willing to pay, but that others besides herself might have to be the ones to pay it – which of course is the worst realization of all for your typical hero.

It resonates strongly, for me, like that moment (usually in your twenties or thereabouts, if you’re lucky) where for the first time you realize, really realize, that you are not immortal, that you are not invincible. That you could actually die if you continue to do stupid shit like that thing you just did. It’s one of those things that is screamingly obvious in hindsight, but at the time can hit you like a freight train if you don’t see it coming. (Hopefully not literally.)

(Tangentially, I am reminded of Douglas Adams’ definition of experience: “Experience is where you say to yourself, ‘You see that thing you just did there? Don’t do that.’” Heh.)

On Birgitte’s status as Hero of the Wheel or not: Nynaeve’s question has not been definitively answered as of yet, but Min’s later viewing of thousands of images around Birgitte, indicating “more adventures than a woman could have in one lifetime”, hints that it may not be quite as bleak as Nynaeve feared. My personal vote (based on nothing more than that I like the idea) is that she was ripped out and is no longer a Hero, but will acquit herself bravely enough in Tarmon Gai’don that she’ll get a fresh backstage pass.

Bonding, you say? What, invoking Campbell wasn’t good enough for you? Ah, don’t worry, grasshopper, we’ll cover that in the next chapter.


Which will be next time, Gadget, next time! See you Wednesday!

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