Hi, kids. Welcome back to the Wheel of Time Re-read. Today we start a new book, The Shadow Rising, in which we cover Chapters 1-2. Because that’s just how long those two chapters are.
Previous entries can be found here. Spoilers abound, so beware.
A short note: I am kind of half-dead with the flu right now, so I apologize if this entry is not the most awesomest; fortunately most of it was written before my sinuses decided to declare Total War. However, not being able to look at a computer screen (or anything else) for extended periods of time since hostilities got fully under way has thrown my schedule out of whack, so there is a possibility that Wednesday’s post may get pushed back. I’ll keep y’all posted.
Flu sucks, by the way. This observation is brought to you by Captain Obvious and the makers of Nyquil, the nighttime sniffling, sneezing, achy head, fever, how the hell did I wind up on my kitchen floor medicine.
Chapter 1: Seeds of Shadow
Wheel, Time, Ages, Legend, Myth, Wind, Beginning, Tar Valon. Min approaches the Tower, hiding her face in the cowl of her cloak; she hopes that the cloak, along with the dress she’s wearing and her longer hair, will keep anyone from recognizing her until she can get to the Amrylin. Then hopefully she can leave immediately and be on her way. As she waits with the other petitioners, she tries not to think that if anyone knew what her purpose was here, she might not live to leave the Tower.
She told herself to stop thinking like that. I’ll make it in, and I’ll make it out. The Light burn Rand al’Thor for getting me into this!
Faolain approaches and asks Min how the Tower may help her; Min is relieved to see that the Accepted obviously does not recognize her. Min begins to tell her she has a question for the Amrylin Seat, but cuts off as three Aes Sedai look into the room. Min only knows one of them, Ananda of the Yellow Ajah, but she sees images around all three of them – a rotting aura, a skull, a curtain of blood – and knows that all three of them are going to die, and all on the same day. Faolain, of course unaware of this, tells Min that the Amyrlin Seat cannot just see everyone; Min collects herself and replies that she has the right to request to speak to the Amyrlin Seat herself. Faolain argues with her further, but finally agrees to take her request to the Keeper, and asks for Min’s name, which Min very reluctantly gives as “Elmindreda”. Faolain is amused, and leaves. As Min waits, she sees an Accepted with bars in front of her face, and then to her shock Sheriam, who Min’s viewing shows battered and bruised, and a Brown sister whose fading aura also means death. Finally a novice named Sahra comes to lead her to the Amyrlin’s study. On the way, Min sees more images: two Warders with bloody gaping wounds, servants also showing violence in the futures, an Aes Sedai with chains wrapping around her, and another with a silver collar on her neck. This last makes Min gasp. They reach the outer doors to the study, and run into Gawyn emerging from them, looking furious. He recognizes her immediately, and asks her where Egwene and Elayne have gone. Min forgets subterfuge and grabs his arm, saying worriedly they should have been back months ago, with Verin Sedai! Gawyn corrects her misinterpretation, telling her they did return then, though they refused to tell him where they had been, but now they had left again, and no one will tell him anything again. Supposedly they are on a farm somewhere, but Gawyn clearly doesn’t buy that.
Min flinched; for a moment, streaks of dried blood had made his face a grim mask. It was like a double hammer blow. Her friends were gone—it had eased her coming to the Tower, knowing they were here—and Gawyn was going to be wounded on the day the Aes Sedai died.
Suddenly she remembers Sahra, but the novice only seems interested in mooning over Gawyn. Min tells Gawyn she doesn’t know where the girls are, but she is sure that Gawyn will not help them by making the Amyrlin angry, and in any case Elayne would not thank him for meddling. Gawyn replies that that doesn’t matter; it is his sworn duty to protect his sister’s life before his own, and ensure that she survives to ascend the Lion Throne, and he can’t do that if he doesn’t know where she is. Min asks, and Egwene? Gawyn replies warily that he’s concerned about Egwene, of course – and Nynaeve – since whatever happens to them will happen to Elayne, seeing as the three of them are connected at the hip. Min replies that her mother told her to marry a poor liar, and he qualifies, except she thinks someone else has first claim. Gawyn merely replies that Galad has been heartsick since Egwene left, and Min resists the urge to shake him. She warns him again not to anger the Amyrlin, but Gawyn cannot promise that, especially if the girls are hurt. Min sees the bloody face vision on him again for a moment, along with an altered version of his own banner – the White Boar on a field of green instead of white – and a heronmark blade, though Min is not sure if it is his or threatening him. She begs him to be careful, and he tells her she should wear dresses more often, and leaves. Min makes herself stop smoothing her dress, and hustles Sahra to bring her into the Amyrlin’s study. Inside, they meet Leane, who dismisses Sahra and swiftly jerks off Min’s hood, recognizing her. Leane says dryly that at least Min looks a little more like an Elmindreda with the dress, and Min wishes her mother would not have named her after a woman who spends all her time in the stories about her lounging around and sighing over men. Leane goes on that she supposes the Amyrlin knows who she is, which is why she got in here so fast, and breaks off at the look on Min’s face, asking if she’s ill.
Min carefully blanked her face. “No. No, I am all right.” For a moment the Keeper had been looking through a transparent mask of her own face, a screaming mask. “May I go in now, Leane Sedai?”
Leane nods, and Min scampers inside. As the Amyrlin comes around the desk to her, Min starts an awkward curtsey, and freezes halfway as she sees a vision of the Amyrlin lying on the floor, naked. The Amyrlin notes her halt, and asks what she saw; Min tells her, but doesn’t know what it means. Siuan barks a laugh and says maybe it means she’ll take a lover, though she thinks this highly unlikely. Min then tells her of all the things she’s seen since arriving at the Tower, only leaving out most of what Gawyn had said in their conversation. When she finishes, Siuan only remarks that she should be able to persuade Gawyn to keep quiet, and the novice Sahra could use some time hoeing vegetables on a farm. Min doesn’t understand, and asks if Siuan heard what she just said, that there is going to be some kind of battle, and since servants are involved, it must happen in Tar Valon itself.
“Did you see that?” The Amyrlin demanded. “A battle? Do you know, with your... your talent, or are you guessing?”
“What else could it be? At least four Aes Sedai are as good as dead. Mother, I’ve only laid eyes on nine of you since coming back, and four are going to die! And the Warders... What else could it be?”
“More things than I like to think of,” Siuan said grimly. “When? How long before this... thing... occurs?”
Min isn’t sure, just that it will all happen on the same day. She asks if it could be the Whitecloaks, but Siuan rejects this idea. They argue about that for a moment, and Min finally says she hopes it’s the Whitecloaks, because otherwise it might be the Seanchan, but Siuan thinks that’s even less likely, considering how far they are from the sea. Siuan is sure that it must be the Black Ajah, and then changes the subject, asking for news of Rand al’Thor. Min replies that he ran from Moiraine toward Tear, and that’s the last she knows. Siuan growls that she wishes the fool boy never read a word of the Prophecies of the Dragon, which confuses Min, and Siuan explains:
“The Prophecies aren’t what makes him the Dragon Reborn; all that takes is for him to admit it, and he must have if he is going for Callandor. The Prophecies are meant to announce to the world who he is, to prepare him for what is coming, to prepare the world for it.”
She continues that Moiraine was supposed to guide him to the Prophecies they are sure he’s ready for. Min accuses that they do mean to control him, just as Rand said, and adds that she and Moiraine don’t seem to be doing a very good job so far.
Siuan’s tiredness seemed to slide from her shoulders. She straightened and stood looking down at Min. “You had best hope we can. Did you think we could just let him run about loose? Headstrong and stubborn, untrained, unprepared, maybe going mad already. Do you think we could trust to the Pattern, to his destiny, to keep him alive, like some story? This isn’t a story, he isn’t some invincible hero, and if his thread is snipped out of the Pattern, the Wheel of Time won’t notice his going, and the Creator will produce no miracles to save us: If Moiraine cannot reef his sails, he very well may get himself killed, and where are we then? Where is the world? The Dark One’s prison is failing. He will touch the world again; it is only a matter of time. If Rand al’Thor is not there to face him in the Last Battle, if the headstrong young fool gets himself killed first, the world is doomed. The War of the Power all over again, with no Lews Therin and his Hundred Companions. Then fire and shadow, forever.”
Siuan looks at Min, and suddenly realizes Min is in love with Rand. Min tries to deny it for a moment, then admits that the first thing she ever saw around Rand was three women’s faces, and one of them was hers; it’s the only time Min has ever had a vision about herself. She knows all three of the women are going to fall in love with Rand, but she doesn’t know who the other two are, or whether Rand will love any of them back. Siuan considers this, and Min regrets being so open with her, and says that she’s delivered Moiraine’s message and will just be on her way now. Siuan has other ideas, however, and quickly strongarms Min into becoming a replacement Black Ajah hunter for her by remaining in the Tower as Elmindreda; Leane will help her with the dresses and cosmetics end of it. Min is horrified, but can’t see any way out of it.
Elaida considers the woman she had just seen enter the Amyrlin’s study as she stalks through the Tower. Despite the disguise, she knows it was Min, who had spent so much time with Siuan before she left, and who was such good friends with Egwene, Nynaeve, and Elayne. Elaida is sure that the Amyrlin is hiding the three of them, and the story about them being on a farm is nonsense.
Apart from everything else, it infuriated her that she could not find Elayne. Elaida had the Foretelling sometimes, the ability to foresee future events. If it came seldom and faintly, that was still more than any Aes Sedai had had since Gitara Moroso, dead now twenty years. The very first thing Elaida had ever Foretold, while still an Accepted—and had known enough even then to keep to herself—was that the Royal line of Andor would be the key to defeating the Dark One in the Last Battle. She had attached herself to Morgase as soon as it was clear Morgase would succeed to the throne, had built her influence year by patient year. And now all her effort, all her sacrifice—she might have been Amyrlin herself had she not concentrated all her energies on Andor—might be for naught because Elayne had disappeared.
And then there was Rand al’Thor, and the two other young men from his village, Matrim Cauthon and Perrin Aybara, who were all three ta’veren, whom Siuan had managed to see in Fal Dara, and who were connected in some way to Moiraine. Elaida doesn’t think anyone besides herself remembers that Moiraine and Siuan were best friends as novices, for they have behaved almost like strangers ever since they were raised to the shawl right after the Aiel War. She can hardly believe that their schemes go back so far, but it all tied together, and Elaida is convinced whatever Siuan is doing will be the ruination of the Tower. Abruptly she is struck by the idea that perhaps al’Thor could channel; she thinks that surely even Siuan could not be so reckless, but then mutters aloud, who knows what that woman would do? She was not fit to be the Amyrlin Seat.
“Talking to yourself, Elaida? I know you Reds never have friends outside your own Ajah, but surely you have friends to talk to inside it.”
Elaida turns to see Alviarin standing there. Though the White and the Red have always stood in opposition to each other, she considers the Whites’ penchant for reliance on logic, and invites Alviarin to walk with her. Alviarin hesitates, then complies, and as Elaida explains her reasoning about Siuan, seems at first skeptical, then thoughtful. She says Elaida has no proof of anything improper, but Elaida replies, not yet.
Dain Bornhald stands hidden in a copse on the bank of the Taren, looking across the river to the town of Taren Ferry, where Jaret Byar and a company of Whitecloaks are meeting with a delegation of the townsfolk. Dain is sure only Byar knows why he had accepted this mission, and is fine with that, as Byar was faithful as a hound, and had transferred his loyalty from Dain’s father to Dain on Geofram’s death. Child Ivon comes to tell him that Ordeith had taken aside three of the Tinkers they had captured, and now the three are missing. Dain curses and heads back to the clearing where the rest of the Whitecloaks are gathered, watching over the Tinker caravan. Dain asks for a word with Ordeith, the bony little man who had immediately said that the Tinkers were useless and should be killed, and asks if Ordeith put his “suggestion” into practice despite Dain’s orders. Ordeith answers that he took a few of them off to “see what they knew”, and supposes they must have run off after that. Dain grinds his teeth; he had been ordered to meet this man here, but Pedron Niall’s orders had left much vague, including what exactly Ordeith’s rank was compared to Dain’s, but there was a strong suggestion that he was to heed Ordeith’s advice on this mission, which does not sit well with Dain at all. He doesn’t understand why Niall trusts the man, and thinks that the fifty Whitecloaks accompanying him were the sourest group of men he had ever come across; but he would do what he had to for now. Dain tries to imply to Ordeith that his actions could harm their mission, but Ordeith smoothly debunks his argument, saying no one would believe Tinkers anyway. Byar returns and informs Dain that Taren Ferry is secured; they claim they have no Darkfriends, but that the villages further in are the Darkfriend kind. Dain orders him to take three hundreds across the river, and take the Tinkers across as well.
“We will scour the Two Rivers,” Ordeith broke in. His narrow face was twisted; saliva bubbled at his lips. “We will flog them, and flay them, and sear their souls! I promised him! He’ll come to me, now! He will come!”
Dain thinks that Niall has tied him to a madman, but he would do whatever it took to find a path to Perrin Aybara, and revenge for his father’s death.
The High Lady Suroth stands on a terrace and looks across Cantorin Harbor, thinking about the dangers of her course of action.
There was a saying: “On the heights, the paths are paved with daggers.”
Her fingernails clicked on the stone balustrade. How thin was the razor’s edge she walked.
The ships of the Sea Folk in the harbor are all broken or disabled, but Suroth does not know how long she will be able to keep the rest of the Sea Folk or the mainland from knowing that what remains of the Hailene is hidden among the islands here. She had managed to salvage the operation from Turak’s disaster; hopefully she would do well enough to avoid having to go back to the Court of Nine Moons and apologize to the empress in person. To do well, she would have to deal with this man claiming to be the Dragon Reborn, and thinks to herself that if she does not, the Empress will be the least of her problems. She heads back into the chamber behind her, where three women wait, two kneeling and one prostrate on the floor. The kneeling women are sul’dam, and Suroth is annoyed to contemplate one, Alhuin, who has the left side of her head shaved; no sul’dam has ever been raised to the so’jhin, the hereditary upper servants of the Blood, but in Alhuin’s case Suroth had had no choice. Alhuin knew too much. She looks at the prostrate damane, Pura, who had once been a hated Aes Sedai, and asks again how the White Tower controls the Dragon Reborn. Pura insists that the Tower would not, that they would capture and gentle any man who could channel. Suroth repeats the question, but Pura does not change her answer, and Suroth signals Alhuin to have the damane taken from the room. Suroth contemplates how no one had been able to make Pura tell even a simple lie, but is still not sure that the woman’s word could be trusted. Suroth had sent a report to the Empress, but it had not contained the most disturbing news, and Alhuin knows it. Suroth thinks, to assure the Hailene’s success, she must capture this Dragon Reborn; but the question is, when she did, should she give him to the Empress, or not?
First of all, this is so totally a Prologue; I wonder why the decision to pretend that it isn’t one?
Min’s trip of nightmares through the Tower is still one of the more chilling passages in WOT, in my opinion. Ten times more so, of course, when you don’t know yet how it’s all going to come to pass. Never let it be said that Jordan didn’t know how to build up suspense. Imagine having to see all that, and knowing not only was there not a damn thing you could about it, but most people wouldn’t believe you even if you tried to tell them about it – not even those who should know better, as Siuan’s reaction proved. Min’s problems sometimes get downplayed in my mind, given the number of other characters whose angst is so much more front and center, but being the Cassandra figure really, really sucks in its own way.
Speaking of Doubting Siuan, her assertion that they can’t just let Rand run off and fulfill the Prophecies without guidance is understandable, but betrays a complete lack of comprehension of how prophecies actually work, if you ask me. You’d think after seeing her and Moiraine’s schemes wrecked time and time again re: Rand she’d have figured that out. But, like I said, understandable, when you consider how difficult it is in general for Type-A personalities like, well, practically every Aes Sedai, and certainly Siuan and Moiraine, to try to not remain in control of every last aspect of, um, everything. Sometimes doing nothing is the hardest thing for a person to do.
Speaking of Type-A personalities, you realize it is this (combined with an appalling inability to properly interpret her own Foretellings, of course) that is at the root of all Elaida’s problems, right? To be strong and take-charge is one thing, but combine that with an essential rigidity of worldview and a positive genius for picking the losing side, and the results are just freakin’ disastrous.
This last actually also applies to a degree to Siuan as well. Siuan is more flexible than Elaida, true, but her inability to adjust to the reality of dealing with ta’veren, plus her failure to truly believe in Min, is really what brings her down. The difference is, Siuan does eventually learn from her mistakes, whereas it ain’t looking so good for Elaida to do the same.
Whitecloaks and Fain: it’s like a duet sung in hell. You know, the kind where the violins in the background are actually nails dragged across chalkboard and every note is bent so that no one is in tune with any other. Actually, I think listening to that might be preferable. I really don’t like them, in case you haven’t noticed.
Suroth: Yeah, I got nothing, except to say I’m still boggling at how profoundly messed-up Seanchan culture is. Oh, and to wonder why the passage is so carefully oblique about Suroth’s Darkfriendness, when we found out for sure she was one back in TGH. Odd.
Chapter 2: Whirlpools in the Pattern
The wind blows on to Tear, where the people look up at the Dragon banner atop the Stone and cannot decide whether to be hopeful or fearful. In a room inside the Stone, Perrin sits on the bed and watches Faile pace, scratching at the two-week growth of beard on his face, debating shaving. Faile notices, and says it suits him, and Perrin sighs, knowing he’s not going to shave it. He asks what’s troubling her, and she says he deserves a better room than this. Perrin thinks the room is too luxurious already, and besides knows that’s not really it; Faile finally says that the Lord Dragon seems to have lost interest in Perrin. Perrin says his name is Rand, and Faile replies that he is Perrin’s friend, not hers, and she’s thinking of leaving. Moiraine cannot be worried about secrecy now. Perrin agrees, and says Moiraine would probably give her money to be gone, actually. She glares, and asks if that’s all he has to say about it. He tells her that of course he wants her to stay, but it might be safer if she left. Faile kneels before him and says that she does not like wondering when the Lord Dragon is going to go mad and kill everyone around him, just like Lews Therin Kinslayer did. Perrin wants to tell her Rand would never do that, but isn’t sure himself. Faile tells him she has been talking to Bain and Chiad, and they say Moiraine sometimes asks where Perrin is, or Mat, which means she cannot watch Perrin with the Power; Perrin should come with her. He tells her he can’t, and she jumps up and angrily says he can break his ties with Moiraine if he really wanted to. He tries to explain, and she cuts him off again until he shouts at her to listen, at which she falls silent. He tells her that he thinks he and Mat are part of Rand’s destiny, as three ta’veren all together in the same place, something never heard of before, and he thinks that they pull on each other, or maybe Rand pulls on him and Mat. Mat keeps talking about leaving, but somehow he never does it. Why does Faile think Moiraine watches them in the first place?
She was silent for a moment, and when she spoke it was in sympathetic tones. “Poor Perrin. I left Saldaea to find adventure, and now that I’m in the heart of one, the greatest since the Breaking, all I want is to go somewhere else. You just want to be a blacksmith, and you’re going to end up in the stories whether you want it or not.”
Perrin thinks to himself that she doesn’t know everything about him, and looks over to where the hammer and the axe lean against the wall. He picks up the hammer, and tells Faile that Master Luhhan said that you cannot walk away from what must be done. She is silent, and he asks her whether she’s leaving. She replies she does not know, and this is a fine mess he’s gotten her into. He doesn’t understand what she means by that, but refuses to ask for an explanation. Outside, a cock crows, and Faile shivers and says her nurse used to say it meant a death was coming. Perrin shivers, too, and then whips his head around at a thumping noise. The axe has fallen over. He frowns, wondering what could have made it fall, and then it shifts again, and leaps straight for him.
He swung the hammer without thought. Metal ringing on metal drowned Faile’s scream; the axe flew across the room, bounced off the far wall, and darted back at him, blade first. He thought every hair on his body was trying to stand on end.
Faile grabs the haft as the axe flies by her, and it immediately turns on her; Perrin drops the hammer and grabs it too, keeping it from her face. They wrestle with the axe as it tries to reach first Faile, then Perrin, and Perrin realizes he has to get Faile out of the room. He tells her to get out, but she refuses; holding the axe with one hand, he wrestles her out of the room and slams the door, ignoring her pounding from the opposite side.
“Just you and me, now,” he snarled at the axe. “Blood and ashes, how I hate you!” Inside, a part of him came close to hysterical laughter. Rand is the one who’s supposed to go mad, and here I am, talking to an axe! Rand! Burn him!
He wrestles with the axe a moment more, then pulls it toward himself, and ducks out of the way at the last second so that the blade slams into the door, lodging fast. He feels the life go out of the thing, and cautiously lets go. Leaving the axe in the door, he opens it to find Faile frozen on the other side; the axe blade coming through the door had come within an inch of her face. She rains kisses on him, then starts checking him for injuries; he assures her that he’s fine, and she slaps him across the face. She yells that he could have been killed, and Perrin catches her wrist before she can slap him again. She tells him she could have helped him.
“You could not have helped. If you had stayed, we’d both be dead. I couldn’t have fought—not the way I had to—and kept you safe, too.” She opened her mouth, but he raised his voice and went on. “I know you hate the word. I’ll try my best not to treat you like porcelain, but if you ask me to watch you die, I will tie you like a lamb for market and send you off to Mistress Luhhan. She won’t stand for any such nonsense.”
She laughs suddenly and says he would, too, wouldn’t he? Perrin is startled, and cannot figure out why that made her laugh, when before practically the same sentiment made her furious. Faile goes on that this must be the Lord Dragon’s doing; Perrin doesn’t think it was on purpose, but means to go tell Rand to stop it, and they head off, leaving the axe stuck in the door.
Smoking a pipe, Mat tries to ignore the sweltering heat and concentrate on his cards. He would have preferred dicing, but none of the Tairen lords at the table would ever consider playing such a peasant’s game. His luck was not as good with cards, but it did well enough, and he thinks that soon he will have enough to leave. The Tairens gossip about girls, until one of them, Estean, brings up Aiel Maidens, at which the other lords lose enthusiasm for the game. Mat gets dealt the Ruler of Cups, to add to the three other Rulers in his hand, and knows if he gets dealt the fifth ruler, no hand in chop could beat him. So to salvage the game, Mat tells the Tairens how he was tricked into asking the Maidens to play Maiden’s Kiss.
He should have suspected something from the wide smiles that had bloomed on their faces. Like cats who had been asked to dance by a mouse. “Before I knew what was happening, I had a fistful of spears around my neck like a collar. I could have shaved myself with one sneeze.”
The others around the table exploded in laughter, from Reimon’s wheezing to Estean’s wine-soaked bray.
Mat left them to it. He could almost feel the spearpoints again, pricking if he so much as twitched a finger. Bain, laughing all the while, had told him she had never heard of a man actually asking to play Maidens’ Kiss.
Mat continues that then each of the Maidens take a kiss; if they like it, they ease up on the spears, and if they don’t, they press a little harder. Mat adds that he didn’t get nicked any more than he does shaving. The story has relaxed the Tairens, and they continue the game. Estean drunkenly asks Mat to talk to the Lord Dragon about his intention to change the laws to allow a lord to be called up before a magistrate by a commoner, and then starts rambling about why fishermans’ daughters are no good because they smell like fish, and choosing a “nice plump farm girl” instead. Mat tries to remind himself that he is there to play cards, and not to beat up Estean. Edorion changes the subject hastily, to the rumor that the Lord Dragon intends to take them to war against Illian, a notion that pleases the Tairens no end. Mat says he doesn’t think Rand would do that, and Edorion casually mentions that while they of course are all loyal to the Lord Dragon, there are other Tairen lords outside the Stone that he hears are gathering an army to take back Tear. Mat catches the implication, and feels for a moment like he is abandoning Rand in a pit of vipers; then he reminds himself of what Rand is, and thinks it’s more like abandoning a weasel in a henyard. Carlomin asks if Mat is going to buy a fifth card, and Mat tosses in a coin to the pile.
As the silver crown bounced end over end, he suddenly felt luck grow from trickles to a flood. Every ping of silver against wooden tabletop rang clear in his head; he could have called face or sigil and known how the coin would land on any bounce. Just as he knew what his next card would be before Carlomin laid it in front of him.
Sliding his cards together on the table, he fanned them in one hand. The Ruler of Flames stared at him alongside the other four, the Amyrlin Seat balancing a flame on her palm, though she looked nothing like Siuan Sanche. However the Tairens felt about Aes Sedai, they acknowledged the power of Tar Valon, even if Flames was the lowest suit.
What were the odds of being dealt all five? His luck was best with random things, like dice, but perhaps a little more was beginning to rub off on cards. “The Light burn my bones to ash if it is not so,” he muttered. Or that was what he meant to say.
Estean shouts there, that was the Old Tongue, Mat can’t deny it this time. He and the others start arguing over what exactly it was Mat had just said, while Mat shivers and mentally curses Moiraine for leading him into this whole mess in the first place. He asks harshly if the others are going to play, or what. Outside, a cock crows. Mat looks down at his cards, and blinks as he sees that the flame in the painted Amyrlin’s hand has been replaced by a tiny knife; as he stares, she suddenly plunges the blade into his hand. Mat yells and hurls the cards away from him, his chair falling over backward and upending the table. Time seems slowed down.
The Ruler of Flames hung in the air, growing larger, staring at him with a cruel smile. Now close to life-size, she started to step out of the card; she was still a painted shape, with no depth, but she reached for him with her blade, red with his blood as if it had already been driven into his heart. Beside her the Ruler of Cups began to grow, the Tairen High Lord drawing his sword.
Mat flings two daggers at the figures, but they seem to float in jelly, even as he pulls two more knives and the Ruler of Rods starts to grow as well. He throws a third knife at the Queen of Andor, and suddenly everything snaps back into normal motion, and he sees the three cards, ordinary size again, pinned to the wall by his daggers. The Tairen lords and servants in the room are huddled in the wreckage, staring at him, but the Tairens soon try to pretend they saw nothing out of the ordinary. Mat walks over to the cards pinned to the wall. They are inert again, but Mat sees that the Amyrlin figure still has a knife in her hand instead of a flame. He jerks his knives out of the wall and tears the cards in half, then hunts through the debris until he finds the Rulers of Coins and Winds, and tears them up too. Mat sees that clearly there will be no more gambling tonight, and snarls that if Rand has to go mad, he could at least leave him out of it, and stalks out.
Asleep, Rand dreams that Moiraine is prodding him with a stick toward where the Amyrlin waits with a rope halter for him, while Darkfriends and Forsaken lurk in the shadows. He dodges the stick and flees, and Moiraine calls after him that it is too late for that. Then he is in the Waterwood, and Min and Elayne are there. They invite him to go swimming with them; Min kisses him, and then to his shock they both start disrobing. He spins around, mortified, and is face to face with Egwene, who looks at him sadly and then turns and disappears into the wood. He calls to her that he can explain, and starts to chase her, but hesitates as Min and Elayne, now in the water, call for him to join them, asking if he does not deserve what he wants for a change. Rand reaches up to wipe sweat from his face, and sees his hand is full of rotted holes showing bone. He wakes up with a jerk, and lies there berating himself for dreaming about Min and Elayne that way, when he can’t afford to be near anyone like that. Then he realizes he is not alone in the room, and seizes saidin as he rolls out of bed. A sword of fire appears in his hands, and at the same time he channels every candle and lamp in the room alight. He is amazed to see, instead of assassins, Berelain standing there, startled, wearing a thin silk robe. After a moment she collects herself and curtsies deeply, assuring Rand she is unarmed, and invites him to search her if he doubts. Even within the Void Rand has trouble suppressing his reaction to this. He lets the sword vanish but holds on to the Power, and thinks that he does not know much of the First of Mayene other than that she had not left when he took the Stone, which surely any sane person would have. He asks what she is doing there, and how she got past the Aiel on guard outside. She replies that they had let her through when she told them Rand had summoned her. Rand says he did no such thing; why would he summon her at this time of night? She laughs, and he blushes; she answers perhaps she wishes to talk, and lets her robe fall to reveal the even thinner nightgown beneath it. Rand can’t stop staring at her, but tells her that it would be better if they spoke tomorrow; Berelain asks if he has already absorbed stuffy Tairen ways, or is it his Two Rivers upbringing that makes him so formal? He sort-of lies that he is promised to Egwene al’Vere, and she doesn’t see why this should be an obstacle. He sighs, then, seeing this for what it is, a play for the Dragon Reborn, and tells her she should leave. She attempts to press the issue, trying to embrace him, and he channels without quite knowing what he was doing, pushing her back with a wall of Air until she is hemmed into a corner of the room. He ties off the flow, and then examines what he just did, thinking it seems useful. Wide-eyed, Berelain feels at her invisible prison, and Rand tells her they will not speak again except in public, and in fact it would be best if she returned to Mayene as soon as possible. Berelain changes tactics, and abandons seduction in favor of openness; she apologizes to him, and says the customs are different in Mayene, and after all she could not help but admire a man as handsome and strong as Rand. She asks that he please not send her away from him, and that she will beg if he wishes.
She knelt smoothly, like a dance. Her expression still said she was being open, confessing everything, but on the other hand, in kneeling she had managed to tug her already precarious gown down until it looked in real danger of falling off. “Please, Rand?”
Even sheltered in emptiness as he was, he gaped at her, and it had nothing to do with her beauty or her near undress. Well, only partly. If the Defenders of the Stone had been half as determined as this woman, half as steadfast in purpose, ten thousand Aiel could never have taken the Stone.
Rand tells her he is flattered, but he cannot give her what she deserves. Before she can answer, a cock crows, and she stares past him, eyes bulging with fear. He spins, sword flashing back into his hands.
Across the room, one of the stand-mirrors threw his reflection back at him, a tall young man with reddish hair and gray eyes, wearing only white linen smallclothes and holding a sword carved from fire. The reflection stepped out onto the carpet, raising its sword.
I have gone mad. Thought drifted on the borders of the Void. No! She saw it. It’s real!
He slashes through another freed reflection, but as soon as it is gone, his reflection appears again in the mirror, and starts to climb free. He stabs at the mirror, shattering it, and it seems to him that the image of him screamed before disappearing. He channels, and every mirror in the room explodes into shards, but not before three duplicates had gotten out, also holding Power-wrought swords. They stare at him with faces twisted in hatred and anger, but their eyes are empty. They charge him.
Had the three fought together, had they supported one another, he would have died in the first minute, but each fought him alone, as if the others did not exist. Even so, he could not stop their blades entirely; in minutes blood ran down the side of his face, his chest, his arms. The old wound tore open, adding its flow to stain his smallclothes with red. They had his skill as well as his face, and they were three to his one.
The duplicates are all bleeding too, but it does not seem to be slowing them the way it is him. He rolls across the bed, buying himself a moment as they come around it, and a tiny replica of himself, this time from the polished silver on the nightstand, stabs him in the hand. He grabs the tiny reflection, and feels his hand start to grow numb. He does something with saidin and heat rushes back:
Suddenly the small figure burst like a bubble, and he felt something flow into him—from the bursting—some little portion of his lost strength. He jerked as tiny jolts of vitality seemed to pelt him.
When he raised his head—wondering why he was not dead—the small reflections he had half-glimpsed were gone. The three larger stood wavering, as if his gain in strength had been their loss. Yet as he looked up, they steadied on their feet and came on, if more cautiously.
He backs away, thinking furiously, then takes a risk and lets his sword disappear. His gamble is proven right when the three duplicates’ swords vanish too, but then they immediately all jump him.
Cold soaked into Rand. Numbness crept along his limbs, through his bones, until he barely felt the shards of mirror, the slivers of porcelain grinding into his flesh. Something close to panic flickered across the emptiness surrounding him. He might have made a fatal mistake. They were larger than the one he had absorbed, and they were drawing more heat from him. And not only heat. As he grew colder, the glassy gray eyes staring into his took on life. With chill certainty he knew that if he died, that would not end the struggle. The three would turn on one another until only one remained, and that one would have his life, his memories, would be him.
He tries desperately to remember what he did before with saidin, and strains to do it again. One of the three replicas vanishes and is reabsorbed, and then the other two as well. After a moment, he heaves himself to his feet and limps to where Callandor rests on a stand, and takes it up. Then he remembers Berelain, and turns to find her still kneeling, but she has pulled her robe back on, and her face is white as snow. Shaking, she asks which one he is, and Rand tells her gently he is the only one there is. Trying to joke with her, he adds, the one you were treating as your betrothed a moment ago, and she prostrates herself, apologizing profusely, and promises never to bother him again. He removes the wall of air blocking her in, and tells her there is nothing to forgive, and she is free to leave as she wishes. She heads for the door, but stops and asks if she should send the Aiel or the Aes Sedai to him. He thanks her, but says no. She curtsies and hurries out.
Limping to the foot of the bed, he lowered himself into the chest there and laid Callandor across his knees, bloody hands resting on the glowing blade. With that in his hands, even one of the Forsaken would fear him. In a moment he would send for Moiraine to Heal his wounds. In a moment he would speak to the Aiel outside, and become the Dragon Reborn again. But for now, he only wanted to sit, and remember a shepherd named Rand al’Thor.
Damn, this was a long chapter. But an excellent one; of all the action sequences in the series, in my opinion this one stands out head and shoulders as being one of the best written, most original and most thematically appropriate in the books.
It helps, of course, that Mat’s and Rand’s version of the bubble of evil plays with two of my favorite symbolically fraught concepts: mirrors and playing cards. I’ve always adored tarot/playing cards/poker/etc. as a symbolic motif (Last Call by Tim Powers comes strongly to mind), and mirrors are just freaky. Perrin’s adventure is more straightforward, but no less thematically apt for him particularly.
In all cases the boys are attacked by their own strengths, more or less; certainly this is true for Mat and Perrin. Rand’s episode was a little less straight across, and seemed to have been more about reflecting (hah) his uncertainties about who exactly he is. Unlike in the last book, however, this time it’s not so much an uncertainty about whether he’s the Dragon Reborn or not, but what being the Dragon Reborn actually means, and how he’s supposed to play the role. This is not a conflict that gets resolved for Rand anytime soon.
On other matters: the essential conflict for Faile and Perrin’s relationship gets set up here, which is that they are both operating from practically diametrically opposite cultural notions of how relationships actually work. It’s a dynamic that will range the full spectrum, from teeth-gnashingly infuriating to poignant and awesome, just in this one novel.
Berelain: like Rand, I am kind of appalled at her unabashed sex-for-power play, while at the same time am impressed at her sheer, well, ballsiness in doing so. Interesting that there really isn’t a feminine equivalent of that slang in English, because there totally should be. I don’t know that I should even be appalled, really; as Berelain herself observes (I think), she is an isolated ruler of a weak nation, and she’s using what weapons she’s got to secure it. And sex can definitely be a weapon – especially in WOT.
And that’ll do it for now. Come back on Wednesday (or whenever, I’ll let you know) for Chapters 3-8. Assuming I don’t drown in a lake of my own snot first, of course. And with that charming mental image, I’m off to bed. G’night!