Greetings, and welcome to another Wheel of Time Re-read!
Today’s post covers Chapters 42-43 of Lord of Chaos, which address the important topics of men’s fashions in jewelry, (in)effective public speaking, and the intricacies of determining Just Who’s In Charge Around Here. Also, headdesking.
Previous entries are here. This and all prior posts contain spoilers for the novel of the Wheel of Time series up to and including Knife of Dreams, so if you haven’t read, don’t read.
The Prologue of The Gathering Storm, “What the Storm Means,” is available for download here on Tor.com or at multiple online vendors. Chapter 1 is still available as well, and now Chapter 2 is available in audio format. Please refrain from posting spoilers for either the Prologue or Chapters 1-2 in the posts for the Re-read, in order to protect those who have not yet read them, or do not intend to before the release of the entire book. Spoiler discussion is going on at the respective posts announcing the releases, linked above; please keep them there. Thanks.
Oui? Oui! And now, ze post!
Chapter 42: The Black Tower
After an awkward silence, Rand asks Min if she would like to come with him to the farm; when he explains what it is, she goes pale and demurs, saying she should get back to Merana. Rand doesn’t understand how she can be so freaked about men who channel in general when she is so comfortable with him in particular, but simply offers her an escort back to the inn, which she refuses. She tells him that he looks tired, and he must take care of himself, then startles him by quickly kissing him on the lips before leaving, seeming very pleased with herself. Rand mutters at himself for being “a randy goat”, and wonders how long Min is going to tease him for one mistake. He retrieves two bags from his wardrobe, and reflects that he may not like Taim, but he could not keep avoiding the farm, not least so that he could quell any wild rumors stemming from the Salidar embassy’s arrival in Caemlyn; there were too many already from Verin and Alanna’s presence. Rand turns, and knows he is facing where Alanna is, and that she is no longer at Culain’s Hound; she had wakened him the night before with weeping, but now she feels eager as well.
He would wager all of Caemlyn that the plumb line from his eyes to her ran straight to The Crown of Roses. He would wager Verin was with her. Not nine Aes Sedai. Eleven.
Lews Therin murmured uneasily. It was the sound of a man wondering whether his back was against a wall. Rand wondered, too. Eleven, and thirteen could take him as easily as scoop up a child. If he gave them the chance. Lews Therin began laughing softly, a hoarse weeping sort of laugh; he had drifted again.
Rand Travels to the farm from his bedroom in order to avoid taking Enaila and Somara with him, but releases saidin as soon as he gets there, not willing to risk what Lews Therin would do with Taim around. The farm is vastly different than before, with the frames for two large buildings going up behind the farmhouse and more than a hundred students, all in high-collared black coats, all of them either channeling to perform chores, practicing the sword with Haslin, or practicing hand-to-hand with an Aiel named Saeric. One student confronts Rand with a sneer, demanding to know who he is and why he didn’t wait in Caemlyn for the wagon to take him to “the Black Tower”. Rand tells him quietly that he is Rand al’Thor.
If anything, the sneer deepened. “So you are him, are you?” He looked Rand up and down insolently. “You do not look so grand to me. I think that I myself could—” A flow of Air solidified just before it clipped him under the ear, and he collapsed in a heap.
“Sometimes we need a hard discipline,” Taim said, coming to stand over the man on the ground. His voice was almost jolly, but his dark tilted eyes stared close to murder at the man he had clubbed. “You cannot tell a man he has the power to make the earth shake, then expect him to walk small.”
Taim shouts for two students named Kisman and Rochaid, telling them to take the unconscious man, Torval, away and dunk him till he wakes. As they obey, Lews Therin begins panting about how he “should have killed him long ago”, and tries to reach for saidin; Rand yells back (mentally) that he’s only a voice, and Lews Therin flees. Taim reports that he’s had one student kill himself drawing too much saidin and two others burn out, and Rand asks what Torval meant by “Black Tower”. Taim shrugs and says it’s a name the students use.
“The Black Tower to balance the White Tower.” He tilted his head, looking at Rand almost sideways. “I can suppress it, if you wish. It is easy enough to take a word from men’s lips.”
But not from their minds, Rand knows, and decides to let the name stand. He tells Taim to gather the students, and discovers Taim has made a platform for speaking from a block of polished black stone. He notes how far Taim’s recruiting program must have ranged, seeing men from every nation in the group. He tells the students about the split in the White Tower, and the embassy in the city from the rebel side, and tells them not to worry over rumors on that score, which elicits no reaction from the audience (Taim looks wry), and Rand moves on.
“You need a name. In the Old Tongue, Aes Sedai means Servants of All, or something very close. The Old Tongue doesn’t translate easily.” For himself, he knew only a few words, some from Asmodean, a handful from Moiraine, some that had seeped through from Lews Therin. Bashere had provided what he needed, though. “Another word in the Old Tongue is asha’man. It means guardian, or guardians. Or defender, and maybe a couple of other things; I told you, the Old Tongue is very flexible. Guardian seems to be best, though. Not just any defender or guardian, though. You could not call a man who defended an unjust cause asha’man, and never one that was evil. An asha’man was a man who defended truth and justice and right for everyone. A guardian who would not yield even when hope was gone.” The Light knew, hope would go when Tarmon Gai’don came, if not before. “That is what you are here to become. When you finish your training, you will be Asha’man.”
This time he gets a bit more of a positive reaction. Rand continues that like the Aes Sedai, they will have degrees, but not quite the same. They will be “soldiers” when they first join, and after reaching a certain stage, they will be called “Dedicated”, and wear a small silver pin in the shape of a sword. Rand calls Taim over and pins one to the collar of his coat, and hands him the bag, telling him to give them to whoever he thinks is ready. Then he tells them that Dedicated who advance far enough will be called Asha’man, and shows them the gold pin in the shape of a dragon, which he pins to the other side of Taim’s collar.
“I suppose I was the first Asha’man,” Rand told the students, “but Mazrim Taim is the second.” Taim’s face made stone look soft; what was wrong with the man? “I hope that all of you will become Asha’man eventually, but whether you do or not, remember that all of us are soldiers. There are many battles ahead, maybe not always the ones we expect, and at the end, the Last Battle. The Light send it is the last. If the Light shines on us, we will win. We will win because we must win.”
There should have been some sort of cheer when he stopped. He did not take himself for the sort of speaker who could make men jump and shout, but these men knew why they were here. Telling them they would win should have produced something, however feeble. There was only silence.
Rand gets down, and Taim disperses the students to work, which they do quietly, before inviting Rand for a cup of wine, which Rand accepts. Inside the farmhouse, Sora Grady serves them wine, and after she leaves Rand asks why they haven’t taught the no-sweating trick to the women; Taim replies that they’ve tried, but the women refuse, fearing it has something to do with saidin. Trying to be diplomatic, Rand comments that he is impressed with Taim’s recruiting efforts, but Taim stiffly deflects the compliment, and Rand finally asks what his problem is with the pins. He says the men will think more of their badges from seeing Taim get his from the Dragon Reborn, and more of Taim for that matter; maybe Taim won’t have to keep discipline by “clubbing men over the head.” Taim begins visibly shaking with rage during this speech, but quickly recovers and changes the subject to the Aes Sedai in the city, saying he’s heard that there are at least eleven and possibly more, implying that his efforts in the city are to protect Rand, just like he saved him from the Gray Man. Rand’s contempt for that last leaks through in his reply, and Taim jerks at his tone, then suggests that the Aes Sedai in Caemlyn might join up with the parties of Red sisters in the countryside, trying to intercept men coming to join the Black Tower. Then Lews Therin begins shouting that he will kill him, trying to seize saidin, and this time he ignores Rand’s telling him to go away.
I will kill him, and then them. They must serve him. It is plain; they must serve him.
Go away, Rand shouted back silently. You are nothing but a voice! Stretching toward the Source.
Oh, Light, I killed them all. All that I loved. If I kill him, it will be well, though. I can make it up, if I kill him finally. No, nothing can make up, but I must kill him anyway. Kill them all. I must. I must.
No! Rand screamed inside his head. You’re dead, Lews Therin. I am alive, burn you, and you are dead! You are dead!
Abruptly he realized he was leaning on the table, holding himself up with sagging knees. And muttering, “You are dead! I am alive, and you are dead!” But he had not seized saidin. And neither had Lews Therin. Shivering, he looked at Taim and was surprised to see concern on the man’s face.
“You must hold on,” Taim said softly. “If sanity can be held, you must. The price is too high, if you fail.”
Rand answers he won’t fail, and asks if these Reds have taken anyone. Taim doesn’t think so, since most recruits come to the Black Tower via gateway now, but offers to dispose of them. Rand refuses curtly, and tells Taim the chances of the sisters in Caemlyn joining forces with Elaida’s Reds are virtually nil. Taim presses the issue on the rebel embassy, and Rand tells him that if he feels a man channel in Caemlyn, or a sister dies for no reason, he will come for Taim. Taim points out that it would hardly be fair if Rand executed him because Sammael or Demandred show up and kill some Aes Sedai, and Rand answers he’d better hope they don’t, then.
“I hear my Lord Dragon and obey, of course.” The hawk-nosed man bowed slightly. “But I still say eleven is a dangerous number.”
Rand laughed in spite of himself. “Taim, I intend to teach them to dance to my flute.” Light, how long since he had played the flute? Where was his flute? Faintly, he heard Lews Therin chuckling.
God, what a deeply uncomfortable chapter.
The first time I read this I was practically jumping out of my skin with the heebs, and it’s not much better with hindsight either. I keep saying one of my bigger complaints is that we don’t get to see enough of the Asha’man, but then I read this and wonder why I want to see more of them, for they are Freaky.
No, really, they are. One guy being a jerk to Rand, like Torval was, is one thing, because it is a law of the universe that any large group of people will have at least one asshole in it (and probably more than one) even without that asshole turning out to be evil in the long run, but that whole lack of cheering thing? Uh-uh. FREAKY.
You don’t have to be a genius or even have read the rest of the series to date to know there’s something seriously hinky going down at the farm, y’all. Although of course to date we still don’t know what exact form that hinkiness takes, since Logain is apparently not a talker. Whatever it is, Rand loses major smart points in my book for failing to see it – or failing to see it clearly enough to act on it, anyway. Rand notes the weirdness of the students’ failure to cheer his speech, but of course he blames himself for it, like with everything, and thus doesn’t take the freaky nearly seriously enough, in my opinion. Because it was a good speech, dude; give yourself some damn credit for once. He should have been getting to the bottom of that shit, by gum.
And yes, I know that Rand has Lews Therin Issues with being around male channelers in general and Taim in particular, but that’s just an excuse. A good excuse, maybe, but still an excuse; you don’t create a monster (more or less literally) with this much destructive potential and then run off and leave it in the hands of an at-best-amoral (or, obviously-evil-I-mean-come-on) guy who clearly hates your guts. Seriously, the man almost went for your throat just now! Hello! Granted, Rand’s admonishment to Taim at that point was hardly diplomatic, but literally shaking with rage? Yeah, no.
Someone said in the comments recently that Rand views the Asha’man as having a short shelf life anyway, and that’s why he doesn’t get more involved with them (or care that Taim is practically a textbook example of a Backstabber-in-Waiting), but that hardly squares with his determination to cleanse saidin (which we find out he’s been planning to do from pretty much the very beginning, even if he doesn’t get around to it for ten books). Mind you, I’m not saying the commenter is wrong; I’m saying it’s inconsistent of Rand, and just plain dumb to boot. Gargh.
Moving on, it’s pretty obvious that Taim’s purpose here is to keep Rand as untrusting of the Aes Sedai as possible, not that Rand needs a great deal of help in that arena, which makes it all the more obvious in retrospect (to me, anyway) that Taim is ultimately the one behind the attack on Demira. And it was probably the warning Rand gives to him here about men channeling in the city, or mysterious Aes Sedai deaths, that inspired him to use “Aiel” for the attack. Joy. But we’ll discuss that more when we get to it.
Also, hi, Torval/Kisman/Rochaid, you little weasels! Isn’t it adorable how the assholes all manage to find each other? All you need is your fourth and you can play Evil Bridge!
(And hey, where is Rand’s flute? I have absolutely no clue when the last time is we saw it. Surely not since TDR…)
Chapter 43: The Crown of Roses
Merana rides back to the inn from the Palace with Min, Seonid, and Masuri, and hopes that what had begun that day with Rand al’Thor ends better than she feels; things seem to be going well so far, but al’Thor terrifies her. She observes Min, who is sitting with her eyes closed, and wonders if the other two Aes Sedai had seen what she had, that Min was absolutely head over heels in love with al’Thor. She suspects but is not certain that Min is the reason that al’Thor knew about Salidar, and thinks they will have to guard their tongues around Min from now on. When they arrive at the inn, Min tells Merana she’s going for a walk, and leaves; Merana wonders how long it will take her to get back to the Palace. Verin and Alanna are in the common room, and Merana gestures for them to join her and Seonid and Masuri in the private sitting room. Merana begins to chastise Alanna for bonding al’Thor against his will, which she considers little short of rape, but Verin interrupts to point out that their opening visit must have gone well, judging by their demeanor, and Rand has not set further restrictions, so the important thing is frightening him enough but not too much. Merana thinks that while Alanna is not a problem, ranking-wise, Verin is, and not under her authority to boot.
Had Verin been part of the embassy, there would have been no difficulty at all, but she was not, and Merana found herself listening attentively, deferring without thinking. Twice in the morning she had had to remind herself that Verin was not in charge. The only thing that made the situation tolerable was that Verin must feel she shared some of Alanna’s guilt. Without that she surely would have been in a chair as soon as anyone else, not standing beside Alanna. If only there were some way to make her remain at Culain’s Hound day and night to watch over that wonderful treasure of girls from the Two Rivers.
Merana sits, and tells Verin that he has placed another restriction, actually; he has charged them to stay away from his “Asha’man”. Merana finds the whole thing chilling, but considers al’Thor more important for the moment. She asks Alanna if al’Thor is still in the city (the revelation that he can Travel had made her rather queasy), and Alanna confirms it distractedly.
She still sounded a little dreamy. “It was… he has a wound in his side. An old wound, yet only half-healed. Every time I let myself dwell on it, I want to weep. How can he live with it?”
Merana begins to comment that she had considered taking Moiraine’s place with him, which makes Alanna flare up; Merana reflects that Greens are very possessive of their Warders, and “al’Thor belonged to her now” however she’d gotten him. Merana continues that she rejected the idea, since thanks to Alanna he is so suspicious of Aes Sedai now that he might have laughed at her had she suggested it. Alanna is clearly distraught, and Merana decides to lay off, remembering how it had been when she lost her Warder. She points out that there is an upside to his suspicion, as he is just as distrusting of Elaida’s emissaries in Cairhien, and they agree that their knowledge of al’Thor gives them a clear advantage over the Tower embassy. At their admission that she had not ruined everything, Alanna recovers and says she may be able to get him to accept her in time, and proposes that they make plans to deal with Rand’s amnesty, even if they have to hold off on them for now.
For a moment Merana regretted her relenting. The woman had done that to a man and all that truly worried her was whether it damaged their chances of success. Reluctantly, though, she admitted that had it made al’Thor biddable, she would have held her nose, and her tongue. “First we must bring al’Thor to heel, so to speak. The abeyance will last as long as it must, Alanna.” Alanna’s mouth tightened, but after a moment she nodded in acquiescence. Or at least assent.
Verin asks how Merana plans to bring him to heel; Merana hesitates, knowing Verin’s allegiance to Salidar is tenuous at best, and dreading what will happen if Verin decides to take over, but begins to explain: they are approaching certain Andoran nobles…
Dyelin tells Kairen Sedai that her worry is Elayne. Kairen smiles and says Elayne may yet be found to take the Lion Throne.
Luan meets with Rafela Sedai, who asks him would it not be better for Andor if “Rand al’Thor leaves the land in peace and unity”?
Ellorien asks Demira Sedai, who would have the Lion Throne then?
“The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills” was the reply, and Ellorien knew she would get no other.
Hi, desk! Have a head!
Blargh. On the one hand, points to Merana for viewing what Alanna did with at least a fairly commensurate amount of the disgust the act deserves. On the other hand, not enough, dudette. Not enough.
I’m not even really censuring her for admitting she would “hold her nose” out of political expediency; it’s kind of contemptible, but she has a point, I guess. I’m more just really really wishing she’d slapped the shit out of Alanna first, or at least actually said aloud what she was thinking about it being rape. Something. I want my righteous-outrage-by-proxy, dammit. Sigh.
Alanna’s little “You’re not mad anymore? Oh, well that’s all right then!” trick, I’m not even touching. My forehead canna take much more of this, Captain.
I’m not nearly as annoyed, oddly, by the political canoodling the Salidar embassy is doing with the Andoran nobles, whereas the canoodling their Tower counterparts are doing in Cairhien filled me with HULKSMASH tendencies. I’m not sure why, because ultimately the Salidar meddling led to (or at least strongly contributed to) the unending, multiple-book-spanning bullshit of the Andoran Succession storyline, whereas the mess in Cairhien was basically resolved in one chapter. Maybe because Merana’s stance on Alanna makes me like her more. Or, you know, maybe because the Salidar sisters didn’t end up locking the hero in a goddamn box.
I left out of the summary exactly how Merana determines that Alanna is lower ranking than she and Verin is not, but I have to say I found this fascinating the first time around even while still thinking the system is absurd. I tend to waffle back and forth over whether I think it’s unrealistic or not that the deference to strength is as instinctively ingrained in the Aes Sedai as it’s portrayed. On the one hand, really? On the other, well, we do that, too, if you think about it, often with as little thought for why. Our “deference triggers” are just a little different, that’s all.
Me, for instance – I’m not religious anymore, but I went to Catholic school for twelve years, and I seriously doubt I would ever be able to be anything other than totally respectful to a nun or a priest (or a rabbi, or a Buddhist monk, or whatever, for that matter). I try to be respectful to everyone, of course (well, unless you act like a jerk), but there’s an extra level to it for me with people who are clergy, in whatever form. It’s not a conscious choice, either; it’s something that’s been ingrained in me from childhood, and it would be a difficult impulse for me to ignore, not that I really think I need to.
(I’ve never personally run into a priest/nun/whatever who is also a jerk, but I imagine if I ever do I will have quite the dilemma on my hands. Actually, wait, never mind; some of the nuns who taught me were jerks, and I was still respectful to them. But then, that’s a double whammy; I was also firmly raised to be respectful to teachers.)
Anyway. So, I can kind of see the “deference to strength” thing becoming automatic, especially since Aes Sedai have a couple of centuries to get the practice nicely embedded. It still makes me blink occasionally, though.
Nice little detail I don’t think I’d noticed before, that Min tends to keep her eyes closed around the Aes Sedai. Merana thinks she’s taking “catnaps”, but of course she’s actually trying to avoid being constantly bombarded with viewings. There’s no significance to this, I just noticed it.
And the post, she is finished! See you Friday, party people!