The Wheel of Time Reread

The Wheel of Time Re-read: The Path of Daggers, Part 9

Greetings, salutations, and welcome back to the Wheel of Time Re-read!

Today’s entry covers Chapters 13 and 14 of The Path of Daggers, in which we completely fail to encounter rainbows, puppies, unicorns, hugs, or hot chocolate. I mean, damn.

Previous re-read entries are here. The Wheel of Time Master Index is here, in which you can find links to news, reviews, and all manner of information regarding the newest release, The Gathering Storm, and for WOT-related stuff in general.

This re-read post contains spoilers for all currently published Wheel of Time novels, up to and including Book 12, The Gathering Storm. If you haven’t read, read at your own risk.

And now, the post!


Chapter 13: Floating Like Snow

 

What Happens
Rand sits his horse some distance from the army he’s led here, Tairen and Cairhienin and Illianer all mingling uneasily together, and notes that the nobles are glancing at the sky and him both with worry. He thinks that they’re not sure what to make of their prayers for the weather to break being answered with relentless storms, and wonders if they think it’s his doing, which makes him laugh bitterly to himself. With saidin in him, he examines the hills nearby, knowing they hide two or three thousand men. Rand thinks that he doesn’t have time for this, but nevertheless the remnants of Sammael’s former army cannot be left to wander the countryside.

What would you do? he thought. Are you there? And then, doubtfully, hating the doubt, Were you ever there? Silence answered, deep and dead in the emptiness that surrounded him. Or was there mad laughter somewhere in the recesses of his mind? Did he imagine it, like the feel of someone looking over his shoulder, someone just on the brink of touching his back? Or the colors that swirled just out of sight, more than colors, and were gone? A thing of madmen.

Rand announces that he will go down to talk to the men himself, which produces an instant flurry. Gregorin and First Captain Marcolin from the Illianers, Weiramon, Tolmeran and Rosana from the Tairens, and Semaradrid from the Cairhienin all ride over to him, and though their feelings for each other range from wariness to hatred, they all variously tell him how they think this would be a bad idea. Rosana points out bluntly that even the Dragon Reborn can be killed by an arrow, Weiramon uses the opportunity to insult the Illianers, Gregorin takes umbrage at Weiramon, and Semaradrid thinks Rand should just kill them all.

“Did I ask for opinions?” Rand snapped harshly. Babble became silence, except for the crack of cloaks and banners flapping in the wind. Suddenly expressionless faces regarded him, more than one going gray. They did not know he held the Power, but they knew him. Not all of what they knew was truth, but it was just as well they believed.

Rand tells Gregorin and Marcolin to come with him, and yells for Dashiva and Hopwil. The nobles eye the two Asha’man uneasily, especially Dashiva, who is muttering to himself and licking his lips, and Rand cocks his head, listening for Lews Therin’s outrage as men who can channel approach, but only senses that Alanna is feeling shock about something; he thinks that it must be a very strong emotion for him to feel it while this far away from her.

He became aware of Marcolin staring at him, and Gregorin trying very hard not to. “Not yet,” he told them wryly, and almost laughed when they clearly understood right away. Relief was too plain on their faces for anything else. He was not insane. Yet.

They ride down, Rand fretting over how little time he has, and listening to Dashiva mutter to himself in the Old Tongue, which Rand knows he reads and speaks fluently despite being a farmer. Hopwil is frowning and silent, and Rand tells him he did well, though the news he brought, that the Seanchan are back and already have Ebou Dar and Amador, fills Rand with rage. Hopwil doesn’t respond, and Rand asks if he’s upset because he had to kill women, and stops himself from reciting his own list in his head. He continues that Hopwil had had no choice but to kill the sul’dam and damane who had discovered him while scouting; Hopwil replies that it doesn’t bother him at all, but Rand hears the lie.

Liah, of the Cosaida Chareen, a name written in fire. Moiraine Damodred, another name that seared to the soul rather than merely burning.

A lone man comes out to meet them from the woods, and Rand rides to meet him and demands to know if he is the leader. The man asks why he wants to know, and Gregorin snaps at him to watch his tongue, as he speaks to the Dragon Reborn and King of Illian. The man is doubtful of this, but Rand forestalls Gregorin from an angry reply, and tells the hidden army with a saidin-enhanced voice that he offers them a generous choice: they can either join his army, or lay down their weapons and go home, but it must be one or the other. Voices from the trees reply, shouting of Dragonsworn and Aiel burning villages, and the spokesman says Rand asks them to go home unarmed while his own people pillage their farms and villages. This infuriates Rand, who shouts that his Aiel are hunting down the Aiel plundering the countryside and the bandits both, and he will allow no one to disrupt the peace of Illian. He snaps that they have till midday to decide, and gallops back up to his forces.

Reluctantly he let go of the Power, forced himself not to hang on like a man clutching salvation with his fingernails as life and filth drained from him together. For an instant, he saw double; the world seemed to tilt dizzily. That was a recent problem, and he worried it might be part of the sickness that killed men who channeled, but the dizziness never lasted more than moments.

He rages to himself about the Seanchan, and brigands using his name, and Sammael; he wonders if the Shaido were Sammael’s doing, to be a thorn in his side everywhere he went, and thinks of the Aes Sedai the captured Shaido had spoken of being involved as well. He is even more furious at the notion that the White Tower might be involved somehow. He tells the nobles that he’ll be in his tent.

Fire and ice, and death was coming. But he was steel. He was steel.

Commentary
Ow. Ow ow ow ow ow.

Now it’s coming back to me, why I didn’t like this book. Basically my reaction when I first read this was, jeez, when did Rand become a total asshole? And also, I would like a hug and a cookie, because wow.

Of course, now I know I ain’t seen nothing yet on the Rand-as-asshole front. I do not think this merits a “yay”. Maybe I would also like some hot chocolate now.

I’m joking around, but I remember it was kind of almost like a slap in the face, to get to this after being so eager to find out what happens after Rand got crowned King of Illian at the end of ACOS, and see that what happened is, it apparently turned him into a MASSIVE JERK.

Okay, to be fair, that’s not exactly correct. I don’t honestly think Rand is flipping out like this because he let his kinging go to his head—I think Rand is flipping out because he is alone.

Alone, in the sense that for the first time in quite a while, he has no one with him who he trusts fully, and who… eases him, for lack of a better term. There’s no one here to make him feel normal. To be more specific, he has none of “his” women with him. And I don’t just mean Min, Aviendha, or Elayne; I include Egwene and Nynaeve, and the Maidens, too. I mean, therefore, the people I think he feels will both have his back, and who don’t always make him feel like he has GIANT SCARY FREAK tattooed on his forehead. He maybe doesn’t trust the latter group quite as far as he trusts Min/Aviendha/Elayne, but he trusts them far more than most. And all of the above work overtime to assure him they do not think he is All That, which can be occasionally annoying but also is often just what Rand needs to hear.

And it’s interesting, that this group seems to be solely comprised of women, though you could possibly make a case for Bashere and Rhuarc to be included. But honestly I’m not sure Rand either trusts or is as comfortable with either of them as far as he would/is with the others.

And why no Mat and Perrin, you ask? Well… I think Rand trusts them (or does for the moment), but I don’t think Rand feels comfortable with them, at all—mainly because they don’t feel comfortable with him. In other words I don’t think having either Mat or Perrin with him at this juncture would help the way having Min or the Maidens around would.

So, it seems to be mainly just women, and I’m fairly certain that isn’t an accident. Balance, y’see. Male/female, yin/yang, saidin/saidar, yadda/yadda. This is something we’ll come back to later, I think.

Other notes:
Dizziness: starts up here.

…And that’s all I have to say about it, since I’m pretty sure the origins of it are clear (from crossing the streams with Moridin in ACOS). The eventual result, of course, ain’t clear at all. I can’t remember if the dizziness cleared up at some point in TGS or not, but I seem to recall that it did. I could be hallucinating that, though. Well, whatever; I’ll get to that eventually.

Another mention of the swirling colors, and here’s an interesting thing I noted which may or may not be a coincidence: the first time (to my knowledge) the colors appear is in Chapter 18 of ACOS, where Rand meets Cadsuane for the first time. Which is, lest you’ve forgotten, also where Lews Therin pulls his vanishing act, but at the point in the chapter where Rand experiences the color swirls, Lews Therin hasn’t gone yet. Here, I’ll quote the passage again for convenience:

“Berelain, I don’t know what else I can do to guarantee Mayene for you, but I will write out any—” Colors swirled so strongly in his head that his tongue froze. Lews Therin cackled. A woman who knows the danger and isn’t afraid is a treasure only a madman would spurn.

So, that’s two mentions now of the swirling colors, both in close conjunction with either Lews Therin talking to Rand, or Rand trying to talk to Lews Therin. What does it mean?

Well, possibly, not a damn thing. It could just be a coincidence. And even if it isn’t, I have no idea what the implications might be if there is a connection; Ta’veren Telepathy doesn’t seem to have much to do with a crazy voice in your head, except maybe for the “in your head” part. And of course, it’s probably a moot point after the end of TGS anyway.

So, in conclusion, dunno. But it caught my attention, so I bring it to yours. Have fun with it if you so desire.
Chapter 14: Message from the M’Hael

What Happens
Rand rides back to camp, ruminating on why these men follow him; he’s pretty sure it’s more out of fear of him than any belief in the end of the world, and he thinks he doesn’t have time to do anything but accept that. His tent is heavily guarded and staffed by soldiers and servants from all three nations. Damer Flinn, whom Rand thinks he trusts more than most, comes to tell him Torval is in the council tent, and Flinn had left Narishma to watch him, per Rand’s orders that no one from the Black Tower was to be left alone. Flinn adds that Torval wasn’t happy to see Rand had raised all of the men with him (to either Dedicated or full Asha’man). Rand tells Flinn they deserved it, and heads off with Hopwil and Dashiva after ordering refreshments sent.

Flinn saluted again, but Rand was already striding away, black mud squelching around his boots. No cheers rose for him in the blustering wind. He could recall when there had been. If that was not one of Lews Therin’s memories. If Lews Therin had ever been real. A flash of color just beyond the edge of sight, the feel of someone about to touch him from behind. With an effort, he focused himself.

Inside, Torval is as supercilious as ever, and much too richly dressed; he is studying the maps when Rand enters (which Rand does not care for), and greets him almost as if speaking to an equal. He congratulates Rand on his conquest of Illian, and makes a sneering remark about Narishma, making “Dedicated” seem like an insult; Narishma flushes angrily, and Rand asks roughly what Torval wants. Torval produces a letter from “the M’Hael” with a very fancy seal in the shape of a Dragon, which Rand notes dryly almost looks like it could have come from the Dragon Reborn himself. Torval adds that an army led by Aes Sedai are indeed marching toward the Black Tower, and Rand replies they march toward Caemlyn, not the Black Tower, and repeats his orders that they are to be left alone. Torval argues against this, and Dashiva chimes in with his agreement; angrily, Rand tells them he’ll kill anyone who goes near them, and says he can come back to the Black Tower to make himself clear if need be. Torval hastily reassures him that isn’t necessary, and Rand thinks to himself sourly that it is Taim’s displeasure Torval fears, not his. Dashiva and Hopwil are enjoying Torval’s comeuppance, but Narishma only watches Rand gravely. A stream of servants, led by a Cairhienin woman named Boreane, enter with refreshments; Rand ignores them to read Taim’s letter, in which he reports that twenty-nine Asha’man, ninety-seven Dedicated and three hundred twenty-two Soldiers are now enrolled at the Black Tower, and that the number of deserters and losses in training have been “acceptable”.

I now have as many as fifty recruiting parties in the field at any given time, with the result that three or four men are added to the rolls almost every day. In a few months, the Black Tower will equal the White, as I said it would. In a year, Tar Valon will tremble at our numbers.

I harvested that blackberry bush myself. A small bush, and thorny, but a surprising number of berries for the size.

[…] Rand grimaced, putting the… the blackberry bush… out of his mind. What had to be done, had to be done. The whole world paid a price for his existence. He would die for it, but the whole world paid.

He thinks Taim is overly optimistic about matching the White Tower; the Asha’man might soon equal or exceed Aes Sedai in numbers, but practically every one of those sisters has ten times the amount of channeling experience as any Asha’man, and much of that in specifically how to counter a man who can channel. He asks Torval how many deserters and “losses”; Torval answers nineteen deserters so far, and adds that Taim has ordered their heads be displayed on the Traitor’s Tree if caught. Rand levelly approves this, thinking Taim is a great one for naming things, but the men needed that sort of thing, and adds that next time he comes there he wants to see all their heads. This unnerves Torval a bit; Rand demands to know about the losses, and all the Asha’man are intent on Torval’s answer.

Torval shrugged, too casually. “Fifty-one, all told. Thirteen burned out, and twenty-eight dead where they stood. The rest… The M’Hael, he adds something to their wine, and they do not wake.” Abruptly his tone turned malicious. “It can come suddenly, at any time. One man began screaming that spiders were crawling beneath his skin on his second day.” He smiled viciously at Narishma and Hopwil, and nearly so at Rand, but it was to the other two he addressed himself, swinging his head between them. “You see? Not to worry if you slide into madness. You’ll not hurt yourselves or a soul. You go to sleep… forever. Kinder than gentling, even if we knew how. Kinder than leaving you insane and cut off, yes?” Narishma stared back, taut as a harp-string, his mug forgotten in his hand. Hopwil was once more frowning at something only he could see.

“Kinder,” Rand said in a flat voice, setting the mug back beside him on the table. Something in the wine. My soul is black with blood, and damned. It was not a hard thought, not biting or edged; a simple statement of fact. “A mercy any man might wish for, Torval.”

Torval’s cruel smile faded, and he stood breathing hard. The sums were easy; one man in ten destroyed, one man in fifty mad, and more surely to come. Early days yet, and no way till the day you died to know you had beaten the odds. Except that the odds would beat you, one way or another, in the end. Whatever else, Torval stood under that threat, too.

Abruptly Rand became aware of Boreane. It took a moment before he recognized the expression on her face, and when he did, he bit back cold words. How dare she feel pity! Did she think Tarmon Gai’don could be won without blood? The Prophecies of the Dragon demanded blood like rain!

“Leave us,” he told her, and she quietly gathered the servants. But she still carried compassion in her eyes as she herded them out.

The men are silent for a time, until Fedwin Morr bursts in with the news that the Seanchan will be moving from Ebou Dar soon, to come against Illian. Rand only nods, but Torval sneers in disbelief, wanting to know how an army can cover more than a thousand miles without knowing how to Travel. Morr counters with the intelligence that they are spacing companies along the Venir Mountains all the way to Arran Head, and commandeering every wagon and cart they can find. Torval is still contemptuous, not seeing what carts have to do with anything, but Rand congratulates Morr on a job well done, and informs Torval that armies don’t do well without food, and food means supply trains, which means wagons and carts; the Seanchan are nothing if not good organizers.

Ebou Dar had been theirs barely more than a week, but the merchants’ eyes-and-ears wrote of repairs well under way on the damage done to the city in its taking, of clean sickhouses set up for the ill, of food and work arranged for the poor and those driven from their homes by troubles inland. The streets and the surrounding countryside were patrolled so that no one need fear footpads or bandits, day or night, and while merchants were welcome, smuggling had been cut to a trickle if not less. Those honest Illianer merchants had been surprisingly glum about the smuggling.

Rand declares that Morr is correct; sulkily, Torval opines that even so, it will take months for them to get to Illian, and fifty Asha’man can destroy any army anyway. Rand counters that an army with damane is not so easily dispatched, and studies the map, choosing where to make his stand. Morr pipes up that there was something else, talk about some sort of Aes Sedai weapon; Morr had gone to the site, which was scorched for three hundred paces around the epicenter. He comments that “saidin was worst there”, and Rand jumps on this, asking what he means.

Saidin was… strange,” he said hoarsely. His words came in rapid bursts. “Worst there—I could… feel it… in the air all around me—but strange everywhere around Ebou Dar. And even a hundred miles away. I had to fight it; not like always; different. Like it was alive. Sometimes… Sometimes, it didn’t do what I wanted. Sometimes, it… did something else. It did. I’m not mad! It did!”

Dashiva mutters that it’s not possible, and Rand asks how he or any of them could know that; Dashiva gives him a startled look, and Rand tries to reassure Morr that it will be all right. They all go back to their brown study, and Rand thinks of how he had asked once “where he knew the answers would be true” how to cleanse saidin, and got a riddle for an answer. Herid Fel had claimed the riddle had “sound philosophical principles”, but didn’t know how it applied to the question.

Had Fel been killed because he might have puzzled out the riddle? Rand had a hint at the answer, or thought he might, a guess that could be disastrously wrong. Hints and riddles were not answers, yet he had to do something. If the taint was not cleansed somehow, Tarmon Gai’don might find a world already ruined by madmen. What had to be done, had to be done.

“That would be wondrous,” Torval said in a near whisper, “but how could anyone short of the Creator or…?” He trailed off uneasily.

Rand had not realized he had spoken any of his thoughts aloud. Narishma’s eyes, and Morr’s, and Hopwil’s, belonged in one face, shining with sudden hope. Dashiva looked poleaxed. Rand hoped he had not said too much. Some secrets had to be kept. Including what he would do next.

Rand sends them all off with various orders, and Torval back to the Black Tower, and keeps Narishma back to give him a particular set of instructions, warning Narishma not to fail him. Narishma swears he won’t, and leaves.

Dangerous, a voice whispered in Rand’s head. Oh, yes, very dangerous, maybe too dangerous. But it might work; it might. In any event, you must kill Torval now. You must.

Weiramon and the other nobles walk into the tent soon after this, to find Rand alone, laughing hysterically.

Commentary
Reenter: Lews Therin.

HA-hah!

I remember my reaction when I first read that, which was along the lines of, “Ah, crap.” For reals, y’all. I had really been hoping that was over and done with—however unrealistically, because I do recognize it would have been lame if Lews Therin had just disappeared with no resolution or ultimate consequence.

Which he did do, in TGS. So I guess this is one instance where the author(s) know better than me, eh? ONLY ONE, THOUGH.

(I kid, I kid!)

And, well, you guys know where I stand on the issue. Alternate personality goes under deep cover when Cadsuane outs him; alternate personality comes up for air once she’s been out of the picture long enough (though of course, that was all of 15 days ago in internal chronology, yeesh).

Though I will say I’m not sure what if anything the voice coming back at this particular juncture means, for either theory. Maybe it was all that thinking about going crazy that triggered Lewsy’s big comeback? Like, see no evil hear no evil, except with insanity? Look, I don’t know.

Also, yet another mention of color flashy-thing in close conjunction with Rand thinking about Lews Therin. Coincidence, still? Eh? Eh?

Seanchan: Not to completely Godwin myself here, but I read that complimentary bit about how organized and efficient the Seanchan are, and all I could think was YEAH, SO WERE THE NAZIS. Pfeh. Pfeh, I say!

In other news, I totally know I quoted way too much of this chapter, but damn, I kind of had to, you guys, especially that bit with the “losses”. That whole passage… man. I love scenes like this, that telegraph themselves so cinematically in my head—these men standing there in that tent, with all this power at their fingertips, and yet this invisible Sword of Damocles hanging over every single one of their heads, and no way to know when it would drop.

Bleak, yes, but compelling, too. It’s all about making you care for the characters, and Jordan really does that here, so well that I even felt compassion for Torval, black-hearted little weasel that he is.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, therefore, that Boreane felt compassion, too, but I was. I guess I’m just so used to everyone in Randland being either terrified or nauseated (or both) by men who can channel, that seeing someone actually get past that stigma enough to feel sorry for their situation was rather startling. You go, Boreane. I don’t know if we ever see you again, but you go.

M’Hael: What a tool. Make up your own seal, dude, damn.

And again with Rand completely ignoring the hinkiness of what’s going on at the Black Tower! The fact that Taim totally does not want Rand to come to the Black Tower is not setting off any alarm bells at all? Seriously? Gah.

Blackberry bush: I know what this is referring to now, of course (which is, Taim sending a recruiting party to the Two Rivers, which apparently is just as abundant with Power-capable men as it is women), but at the time I first read this I was like ARGH, what are you talking about and WHHYEEE do you not explain it? Heh. And also, wow: that was pretty damn cold of Rand to deliberately suggest it.

Cleansing saidin: What’s odd is that even though the taint was cleansed three books ago now, we never did (to my knowledge) learn what exactly the “riddle” was that Rand received in answer to his question to the Finn about it. (The “to live you must die” riddle was in answer to another question, which was obviously something along the lines of “How can I survive (or is there a way for me to survive) Tarmon Gai’don?”) To my mind, it’s very strange that we didn’t even get to hear the riddle before seeing the solution, and I can’t figure out why Jordan would do it that way. Unless he forgot about it, I suppose…

Well. It’s a moot point now, perhaps, but I’d still like to know. For completion’s sake, or something.

One other thing to note about this chapter is that it’s the basis of one of the very few Looney Theories I came up with by my own self: about the Minion Taim theory, based on Dashiva’s reaction here to Rand talking about cleansing saidin. If you would like to read about it, go here and scroll down to point #18.

Interestingly, even as of TGS it’s not a completely outdated theory, since we still don’t really know what Taim’s deal is. He works for the Shadow, yes, but in what capacity and with what degree of willingness (and under whose authority) are all very much up in the air. My theory, she is sort of not dead yet! Whoo!


And that’ll about do me for this installment, kids. Here, have a weekend. See you next week!

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