The Wheel of Time Reread

The Wheel of Time Re-read: The Fires of Heaven, Part 16

Hey-o, Independent people! Welcome to a totally free and brave and amber-waved Wheel of Time Re-read post! In honor of the holiday weekend, please pretend that this entry is hung about with red, white, and blue crepe paper. And that it occasionally explodes.

Or, if you are un-American, you can alternately pretend it will be covering Chapters 39-40 of The Fires of Heaven. Though actually the title is very appropriate for the occasion!

Previous entries are KA-BOOM! This and all other BANG! contain spoilers for all currently published CRACKLE! in the Wheel of Time ZEEEER-POP! So if you haven’t read, don’t –

Hm. Dud.

Oh well. Here, have a hot dog – and some incendiary commentary!

Chapter 39: Encounters in Samara

What Happens
Nynaeve ties the shawl around her in an effort to cover up more effectively, and she and Uno head past the Whitecloak guards into Samara, which is a madhouse, jam-packed with people from every nation and walk of life. Nynaeve is getting dizzy when Uno guides her to a less crowded alley, where they are joined by another Shienaran, Ragan. Ragan tells Nynaeve not to worry, they will take care of her (Nynaeve shakes her head), and warns her again not to mention the Tower to Masema, as Masema is convinced the Tower wants to control Rand. They come to an alley crowded with heavily armed men, the ones in armor guarding a gilded coach; Uno explains that they’ll never get through the crowd in front of Masema’s place, so they have to go in through the back. Nynaeve is disturbed by the feverish intensity of the men guarding Masema’s house, and more so by the fact that Uno and Ragan have to disarm themselves before being allowed inside. She protests that Masema is supposed to be their friend, and Uno replies sourly that that’s the only reason they’re let in at all.

“Just watch what you say for once,” Ragan told her, “and likely you will get the help you want.” She nodded, as agreeably as anyone could wish — she knew sense when she heard it, even if he had no right to offer it — and he and Uno exchanged doubtful glances. She was going to stuff these two into a sack with Thom and Juilin and switch anything that stuck up.

Inside, Nynaeve is surprised to find that the Prophet lives in near squalor, with only two servants in filthy ragged clothes. The male servant tells them the Prophet is busy and can’t be disturbed yet, and Nynaeve moves to look through the doorway. She sees Masema, who looks clean but shabby, talking to a richly-dressed noblewoman, who is entreating Masema to assist in imposing order among his followers. Masema is of the opinion that the coming of the Lord Dragon has broken all bonds of law, but impatiently assigns harsh and draconian punishments for various offenses; the woman looks shocked, but moves on to the lack of food, and Masema seems angry at the notion that there should be people going hungry with so much gold in the world.

“The Lord Dragon has been Reborn. The Shadow hangs over the world, and only the Lord Dragon can save us. Only belief in the Lord Dragon, submission and obedience to the word of the Lord Dragon. All else is useless, even where it is not blasphemy.”

He informs the woman that she wears too much gold, and she immediately begins pulling off all her jewelry, which the servant collects in a basket. Uno whispers to Nynaeve that every penny goes to the poor; Masema would be living in a hut if it weren’t that some merchant had donated this house to him.

Nynaeve shook her head. She supposed it was one way to find money for the poor. Simply rob anyone who was not poor. Of course, that would just make everyone poor in the end, but it might work for a time.

The woman curtsies deeply to Masema and blesses the Lord Dragon’s name in the Light, and sweeps out. The servant waves Nynaeve, Uno, and Ragan in.

“Peace favor your sword,” Uno said, echoed by Ragan.

“Peace favor the Lord Dragon” was the reply, “and his Light illumine us all.” Nynaeve’s breath caught. There was no doubt to his meaning; the Lord Dragon was the source of the Light. And he had the nerve to speak of blasphemy from others!

Masema asks if Uno and Ragan have “come to the Light” at last, and says that since they are not Darkfriends, by necessity they will come to believe as he does, and Nynaeve shivers at the total conviction in his voice and half-mad stare; she thinks he makes Whitecloaks look laid-back. Masema turns to her, calling her “woman”, and asking if she walks in the Light; Nynaeve answers that she does the best she can, and Masema looks at her dress and returns that she is too concerned with “the flesh”. Angrily, Nynaeve demands to know what right he has to tell her how to dress, and unties the shawl and flings it back to her elbows. Uno and Ragan wince, and Masema just stares flatly, and Nynaeve swallows, for once regretting speaking her mind, but refuses to back down. Masema goes into a fervent yet cold rant about the evils of sex and liquor and the need for people to be scourged of their earthly desires, until Uno breaks in to hastily tell Masema who Nynaeve is, and that she comes from the same village as the Lord Dragon.

“She was at Fal Dara with the Lord Dragon, and at Falme. The Lord Dragon rescued her at Falme. The Lord Dragon cares for her as for a mother.”

Another time, she would have given him a few choice words, and maybe a well-boxed ear. Rand had not rescued her — or not exactly, anyway — and she was only a handful of years older than he. A mother, indeed!

Masema turned back to her. The zealous light that had burned in his eyes before was nothing to what was there now… They almost glowed.

Masema grabs her arms and tells her she is blessed among women, for having the privilege of watching the Lord Dragon grow up, and she will speak to the multitudes of his words of wisdom and his miracles. Nynaeve thinks to herself that she doesn’t remember seeing any particular miracles around Rand, except for the ta’veren thing, which had a rational explanation.

And as for words of wisdom, the first she had heard out of him had been a fervent promise never to throw a rock at anyone again, offered after she had paddled his young backside for it. She did not believe she had heard another word since that she could call wise.

In any case, she has no intention of staying anywhere near Masema, so she tells him the Lord Dragon has summoned her to Tear, so she must travel downriver to join him. Masema lets her go and muses that he had heard the Lord Dragon was there, and after he has brought Amadicia to him like he has Ghealdan, Masema will march them all to Tear to “bask in the radiance of the Lord Dragon”. And then he will bring the rest of the nations to follow the Lord Dragon as well. Nynaeve lies that it sounds like a good plan to her, though she reflects that stupid plans have an annoying way of working, and adds that she cannot wait, though, since when the Lord Dragon summons, “mere mortals must obey”. She mentally promises to box Rand’s ears for making her spout this tripe. Masema stares at her for a long, tense moment, then sighs and agrees that she must go immediately. Nynaeve presses him on the matter of a boat, and he replies testily that he is sure someone will tell him of one soon enough. Then he orders Uno and Ragan to watch over her, especially since she insists on clothing herself this way. Nynaeve bites her tongue, and Uno and Ragan make hasty goodbyes and hustle her out. Nynaeve allows this until they get out into the street, whereupon she chews them out for dragging her out like that. Uno tells her if she had stayed much longer her luck would have run out for sure.

“He had a flaming Lord of the Crown High Council flogged — flogged! — for half the heat in his voice that you had,” the one-eyed man growled. “Contempt for the word of the Lord Dragon, he called it. Peace! Demanding what bloody right he had to comment on your flaming clothes! For a few minutes you did well enough, but I saw your face there at the end. You were ready to flaming lace into him again. The only thing worse you could have done would be to bloody name the Lord Dragon. He calls that blasphemy. As well name the flaming Dark One.”

Ragan reminisces about the time Masema almost had another noble beheaded for referring to “this Rand al’Thor”, and warns Nynaeve that he has put other people’s heads on stakes, and she is not immune any more than they are. Nynaeve can’t understand how Masema has gained such power, and protests that surely if he actually tried to impose his nonsense about women’s clothing and closing taverns that the people would revolt. Ragan tells her she’d be surprised at what people will put up with, and Uno adds that more often than not Masema forgets to follow up on declarations like that anyway – though sometimes he doesn’t. She asks who the “fool woman” was that gave Masema all her jewelry.

“That,” Uno said, “was Alliandre, Blessed of the Light, Queen of bloody Ghealdan. And a dozen more titles, the way you southlanders like to pile them up.”

Nynaeve stubbed her toe on a cobblestone and almost fell. “So that is how he does it,” she exclaimed, shaking off their helping hands. “If the queen is fool enough to listen to him, no wonder he can do whatever he wants.”

“Not a fool,” Uno said sharply, flashing a frown at her before returning to watching the street. “A wise woman. When you bloody find yourself straddling a wild horse, you bloody well ride it the way it’s bloody going, if you’re smart enough to pour water out of a bloody boot.”

Ragan further explains that Alliandre is the fourth to hold the throne of Ghealdan in six months, and she’s still on the throne because she’s the only one of the four who figured out that Masema is unassailable. He’s interrupted by Uno, who tells them they are being followed by a Whitecloak. Nynaeve stiffens, and tells Uno to turn into the next alley so she can get a look at him, overriding his protests. They turn, and Nynaeve glances back just enough to confirm it is the only Whitecloak who could possibly have a reason to follow her: Galad.

Commentary
I kind of forgot how much I really, really don’t like Masema. I’m not sure he ousts Fain as my Nemesesesesis, but hey, at least Fain knows he’s crazier than a shithouse rat.

Masema is the representation in WOT of every way in which qualities that should be good – loyalty, devotion, honor, dedication, faith – can be twisted into something that’s even worse than plain old evil.

I am not a religious person, but I went to Catholic school for twelve years, so I am hardly unfamiliar with the concept of faith, and I do not fail to appreciate both its positive and negative aspects. I often like to joke that my position on religion is the one guaranteed to piss off both the believer and the non-believer. This is the problem with being able to see both sides of a viewpoint.

So faith I can understand, whether or not it concerns beliefs I share. Zealotry, never. This is in great part due because of what I just said about being capable of seeing more than one side of an issue. Winston Churchill once defined a fanatic as “someone who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject”; I would go one step further and say that a zealot is someone who not only can’t change his own mind, but is determined to change everyone else’s to match – with a bullet to the brain, if necessary. Which, yeah. DO NOT WANT.

It is a mindset so utterly alien to me I have trouble accepting that zealots aren’t, I don’t know, kidding or something, deep down, when of course the whole point is they are so, SO not kidding. Give me a thousand moustache-twirling villains before this kind of whackjobbery, please.

The scariest thing about Masema is that he is no fairytale monster; he is real. People exactly like him exist in real life. Most of them don’t have the opportunity or ambition to do as much damage as Masema has (or will), but that does not save them from being, in my humble opinion, scary as all fuck. And this is to say nothing of those who are in a position to do that kind of damage, or worse.

Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh. I might even go so far as a “faugh”. Check please!

I remember there were people who used this chapter to argue that Nynaeve must be ta’veren, because otherwise (they said) there’s no way she could have gotten out of there with her head still attached. This is a very silly argument for her being ta’veren (hint: she isn’t), but it is a very strong argument for her being a main character. Which sometimes amounts to the same thing, really.

 

Chapter 40: The Wheel Weaves

What Happens
Nynaeve hurries into the alley and turns down another one, furious with herself, for if she hadn’t come into town, Galad would never have found her. She is further furious that she has to rely on Uno and Ragan to protect her, since she doesn’t dare channel when Moghedien and the Black Ajah are searching for her.

It was enough to screw her anger tight; she could have chewed a hole in the stone wall behind her. She knew why Aes Sedai had Warders — all but Reds, anyway. In her head, she did. In her heart, it just made her want to snarl.

Galad finds them almost immediately, and Uno and Ragan close ranks and draw their swords. Galad tells them calmly that he does not want to kill either of them, and asks Nynaeve to let him speak to her. Nynaeve sees people looking at the tableau they present, and tells the Shienarans to let him by, which they do reluctantly. She stares at him and wishes he was ugly, and asks what he is doing in Ghealdan.

“I did have orders for Salidar, in Altara, but all changed when this Prophet fellow — What is the matter? Are you unwell?”

Nynaeve forced her face to smoothness. “Of course not,” she said irritably. “My health is quite good, thank you very kindly.” Salidar! Of course! The name was like one of Aludra’s firesticks going off in her head. All of that racking of her brain, and Galad casually handed her what she had been unable to dig up on her own. Now if only Masema found a ship quickly.

Galad lectures her on how worried she and Elayne had made him, and cuts off, staring at Uno and Ragan. He says slowly that he’d heard this Prophet was Shienaran, and hopes that Nynaeve has not been fool enough to get involved with him. Nynaeve assures him wryly that neither Uno nor Ragan is the Prophet, and tells them to put their swords up.

They hesitated before doing as they were told, Uno grumping under his breath and glaring, but they did it finally. Men usually responded to a firm voice. Most did. Sometimes, anyway.

Galad says irritably that he knows that, and doesn’t care what she and Elayne have gotten themselves into, as long as he can get them a ship and get them out of it. Nynaeve gapes at him, and Galad explains guiltily that he can no longer escort them himself; it’s not safe for them to go alone, but he wants them away from here before the entire border explodes. Nynaeve considers that it couldn’t hurt to have both Galad and Masema looking for a boat for them, considering what Uno had said about Masema’s tendency to forget to enforce his own proclamations, but wonders if she can really trust Galad. She reminds him obliquely that he is a Whitecloak, and she is “who she is”, and given that, how does she know there won’t be fifty more of his comrades looking to put an arrow in her back, and Elayne’s too? Galad is either offended or irritated by this, and tells her that again, he would never let harm come to his sister, or her. He asks where they are staying, so he can get word to them. Nynaeve hesitates, knowing that it is not only her own life she’s risking, but Elayne’s and the others’ as well. Galad growls in frustration and tells her he swears by his mother’s name that he means no harm to her.

“You say that you are what you are? I know what you are. And what you are not. Perhaps half the reason I wear this,” he touched an edge of his snowy cloak, “is because the Tower sent you out — you and Elayne and Egwene — for the Light knows what reason, when you are what you are. It was like sending a boy who has just learned to hold a sword into battle, and I will never forgive them.”

He pleads with her to believe him, and Nynaeve finally decides that his kinship with Elayne has the edge here, if only because they are in Ghealdan, which does not specifically outlaw women who can channel.

Besides, he really was too gorgeous for her to let Uno and Ragan kill him. Not that that had anything to do with her decision, of course.

She tells him they are with Valan Luca’s show; Galad does not approve of this at all, and tells her he will put them up in an inn. Nynaeve is incensed that he just expects to take charge of them, and refuses flatly. She tells him to stay away until he’s found a boat, then come to the show and ask for Nana. She further forbids him from escorting her back to Luca’s, and Galad turns to the Shienarans, and calmly charges them with protecting Nynaeve and her companion, and if they fail in that task, he will find them and kill them. He then ignores Uno and Ragan’s flat stares and asks Nynaeve to tell him where Egwene is; Nynaeve answers that Egwene is far from here, and that’s all he needs to know. Galad tells her to keep her head down and stay with the show until he finds a boat, and Nynaeve is amazed that he managed to turn her instructions into a safety lecture for her, though her conscience asks if maybe she shouldn’t be “packed in wool and sat on a shelf”, considering the disasters her decisions have recently caused. Galad turns to leave, and Uno and Ragan block his way for a long tense moment before letting him pass.

Nynaeve gave Uno and Ragan each a good glare before stalking off in the opposite direction. There she had had everything arranged properly, and they had to nearly ruin it all. Men always seemed to think violence could solve anything. If she had had a stout stick, she would have thumped all three of them about the shoulders until they saw reason.

She stalks out of Samara, Uno and Ragan following her silently, and tries to ignore her little voice, but it won’t shut up, especially about Birgitte, and she decides that the best thing at this point was to get to Salidar and hand everything over to the Blues. She considers what use to make of Uno and Ragan now that she was stuck with them, and as they reach the menagerie rounds on them and tells them firmly that if they are to come with her and Elayne, it will be under her orders, not Masema’s or Galad’s, or they can get lost. Uno and Ragan exchange glances, and Uno growls that if that’s how it has to be, so be it, since her bloody tongue will get her killed long before she reaches the Lord Dragon if they don’t.

Ragan gave him a guarded look that said be agreed with every word but strongly doubted Uno’s wisdom in voicing them. Ragan, it seemed, had the makings of a wise man in him.

Ragan adds that he’s sure the others will come too, and Nynaeve is taken aback when he tells her that “the others” consist of the thirteen other surviving Shienarans in their company, not counting Bartu and Nengar, who probably won’t leave Masema. She worries about how much it would cost to feed fifteen soldiers, but is attracted to the notion of having her own private army, and tells them that each night one of them will come to the menagerie and ask for Nana, but otherwise they are to keep away. Uno protests this, but Nynaeve overrides him, and shoos them off. She returns to the show, and sees that Luca has added a contortionist act which reminds Nynaeve very uncomfortably of what Moghedien had done to her. Birgitte and Elayne appear, and Elayne tells her agitatedly that the contortionist (Muelin) had come from a show a mob had destroyed, and berates Nynaeve for traipsing off into town and “kissing a Shienaran”, according to rumor. Nynaeve gapes at this, and Birgitte adds that Luca was incensed, growling about Nynaeve “liking rough men”, and both he and Thom and Juilin went into town to look for her. Nynaeve is trying to make sense of this as Elayne and Birgitte hustle her off, and tells Elayne distractedly that they should be out of there in a day or two, since surely either Galad or Masema will find them a boat. Elayne stops dead.

“You saw — you spoke to Galad? And the Prophet? You must have, or how would they be trying to find a vessel? Did you have tea with them, or did you just meet them in a common room? Where the bald-headed man carried you, no doubt. Maybe the King of Ghealdan was there, too? Would you please convince me I am dreaming so I can wake up?”

“Get a grip on yourself,” Nynaeve said firmly. “It is a queen, now, not a king, and yes, she was. And he wasn’t bald; he had a topknot. The Shienaran, I mean. Not the Prophet. He’s as bald as —” She glared at Birgitte until the woman stopped snickering.

She explains the story more coherently as they continue through the menagerie, and is increasingly irritated with the number of times the word “fool” comes up in Elayne’s exclamations, and further annoyed that Elayne seems doubtful that Salidar is really the name she was trying to remember. Nynaeve cuts off as she suddenly realizes that they have been heading to where Birgitte is to shoot arrows at her. She squeaks that maybe they shouldn’t do this, the light is bad, and so forth, but Elayne is still ruminating over the fact that Galad swore on their mother’s name, which she reluctantly concludes means they can trust him, and Birgitte just cheerfully debates whether to do it blindfolded or not. They position her on the wall, and Elayne berates her for taking such a risk; staring at where Birgitte is heading, Nynaeve agrees fervently that she was a fool, and Elayne stares at her in concern and asks if she’s all right. Nynaeve lies that she is fine, looking forward to it actually, and Elayne dubiously moves off. Nynaeve tells herself that this is a fitting punishment for taking foolish risks, and yelps higher and higher as arrows thunk into the wood and outline her completely. As soon as it is over she takes off for the wagon, knees shaking, promising herself to tell Uno tomorrow to push Masema about that boat as much as he dared.

Commentary
Yep, Nynaeve is still hilarious. And rather frustrating to recap for that very reason; not only do her thought processes twist and turn almost unsummarizably all over the place, but I keep wanting to quote all the funny parts, which is not helping. There’s so much going on here, in fact, that I’m kind of at a loss on which parts to pay the most attention to. Stream of consciousness it is, then!

I can’t decide if it’s by design or happy accident that Nynaeve’s character has been written in TFOH in a manner that is so completely open to interpretation based on the reader’s own personal inclinations. I read this chapter and laugh and laugh, but I am very well aware that others read this chapter and grit their teeth in annoyance at the same things I find hysterical. For instance, the line about violence, which I’ll quote here again for convenience:

Men always seemed to think violence could solve anything. If she had had a stout stick, she would have thumped all three of them about the shoulders until they saw reason.

I seem to recall at least one commenter specifically singled this passage out (or one very similar to it) as proof of Nynaeve’s hypocrisy, and as part of why they considered her contemptible. And is it hypocritical? Yes, it is. And is hypocrisy contemptible? Yes, it is.

And yet, I laughed out loud when I read it. What can I say? It’s funny to me!

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I definitely feel that Jordan was very much playing this for comedy/commentary, and did not intend for most of what Nynaeve thinks to herself to be taken at face value, whereas other readers don’t see it in that light at all. The whole menagerie story arc, in fact, has a slapstick, farce-like tone to me, but only if you read between the lines a bit. Which makes it easier, perhaps, to understand why it frustrated (or still frustrates) many readers, especially the first time through, as they are agog to find out what happens next in the larger story, and therefore do not necessarily appreciate a detour into a comedy of errors, especially one that is either understated or just not very funny, depending on, well, whether you find it funny or not.

And again, is Nynaeve sexist? Yes, she is. And should I not find that contemptible? Yes, I should – except that I, again, feel that her prejudices are not being played “straight”, but rather to highlight just how ridiculous gender-based biases really are. The line above about violence being a perfect example: where others see hypocrisy, I see the implied argument that men and women are not nearly so different as they variously believe themselves to be.

And I have to admit, in a (possibly hypocritical on my part) way, it’s refreshing to see the sexist shoe on the other foot for once. Find it annoying to listen to Nynaeve constantly disparage and dismiss and belittle the male characters, guys? Yeah, it is annoying to be judged solely on your gender, isn’t it? Fancy that!

And this, I believe, is also part of the purpose for Nynaeve’s biases and inconsistencies. Nynaeve is in some ways a caricature, drawn in exaggerated hyperbole as a device for the author to make a point, but the cool thing is that at the same time she is also (to me) a very real and believable character who (I believe) on some level recognizes that a lot of what goes through her head is balderdash, even if she’ll hardly ever admit it, even to herself.

So… that was a lot of stream of consciousness, and it’s kind of one thirty two thirty holy crap in the morning now, so let me finish this up with a note on Galad, to say that his stated rationale on why he joined the Whitecloaks strikes me as perfect fridge logic: it sounds good until you start to really think about it, and then you’re like, “Wait, what?”


And we out! Have a explosion-laden and yet non-limb-severing Fourth holiday weekend if you’re of U.S.ian persuasion, and a non-explody (and hopefully also loss-of-limb-free) random summer weekend if you are Differently Nationed. See you Monday!

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