Howdy, folks! It’s time for Yet Another Wheel of Time Re-read post! The Shadow Rising, Part 7, to be exact.
Small note: it transpires that I am made a liar a little bit yet again, because I realized that Chapters 25 and 26 really need to be taken together, and yet I did not factor that in in time to address them both properly. So, instead, today’s post will only cover Chapters 23-24, and we’ll get to the next two together in the next post. Sowwy.
Previous entries are in our handy-dandy Index, and as usual, spoilers are bustin’ out all over, so beware.
Another small note, to thank you guys for helping me out with my interview questions. That interview should happen Real Soon Now, so keep an eye out for it. In the meantime, feel free to add more questions in the comments there if you think of any.
All righty then, let’s rope this hoss. Giddyup!
Chapter 23: Beyond the Stone
Everyone in the party fights to keep from falling as they are suddenly on sharply tilted land. Egwene notes the broiling heat, and sees in the valley below them a dense bank of fog with several spires and towers sticking out of it, and murmurs that Rand was right about a city in the clouds. Mat laughs to realize they made it without a repeat of the last time Rand tried to use a Portal Stone. Lan is helping Rand to his feet while a tight-lipped Moiraine watches; she tells him his angreal was not sufficient to the task, and he almost failed. Rand replies that the important thing is that it did work, and he’s “outrun them all”, and Lan agrees. Moiraine takes Rand’s head in her hands to wash away his fatigue, and Rand pulls free of her.
“Ask, Moiraine,” Rand said coldly, stuffing the angreal into his belt pouch. “Ask, first. I’m not your pet dog that you can do whatever you want to whenever you want.”
Egwene realizes that the Aiel with them have gone still, and are staring at two other encampments of Aiel on either side, the inhabitants of which are veiling themselves. A woman’s voice calls out “The peace of Rhuidean,” and the various groups relax somewhat. Egwene sees the owner of the voice comes from a third, much smaller encampment; four women dressed in dark skirts and white blouses and much jewelry are approaching. Egwene recognizes one of them as Amys, and presumes that the other three are also Wise Ones, probably the ones who had written the letter to Moiraine. The grandmotherly older one spreads her hands, speaking to the Aiel around the Portal Stone:
“The peace of Rhuidean be on you. Who comes to Chaendaer may return to their holds in peace. There shall be no blood on the ground.”
The Aiel from Tear begin dividing up supplies and pack animals, and move off, some to one or the other of the larger camps, some off by themselves; Egwene notes that they are not dividing by society, as Maidens are with several groups. Aviendha is one of these, heading toward one of the encampments, but one of the Wise Ones commands her to stay, and she stops in her tracks, not looking at anyone. Egwene feels nervous now that they have no Aiel with them. Rhuarc goes to Amys, saying he is back, though not in the way she expected, he wagers; she touches his cheek fondly and says she knew he would be here today. Egwene murmurs to Moiraine that that’s why she was willing to let Rand try the Portal Stone, and Moiraine nods, saying that the Wise Ones’ letter said they would be here today, which Moiraine thought unlikely until Rand brought up the Stones. Egwene thinks to herself that she cannot wait to start learning about Dreaming. Two men, one from each of the encampments, approaches. Rhuarc ignores the younger, flame-haired man and greets the older, darker man as Heirn, and asks if the Taardad have decided Rhuarc was dead and seek to replace him. Heirn replies that none of their clan have gone in to Rhuidean; he came with Amys to assure her safety. The red-haired man flushes, and Egwene gets the feeling a lot more was unsaid in that. Lan quietly explains to her and Moiraine that a Wise One may travel safely anywhere, even in blood feuds; Heirn was here to protect Rhuarc from the other camp, but it was not honorable to say so. Moiraine raises an eyebrow at him, and Lan says he fought Aiel often before he met her, and she never asked him about them; Moiraine dryly replies that she will have to remedy that. Lan makes her and Egwene and Mat and Rand drink, and tie water-soaked cloths around their heads, explaining that the heat can kill if they are not used to it. Rhuarc finally turns to the red-haired man, calling him Couladin, and asks if the Shaido seek a new clan chief; Couladin answers that Muradin has entered Rhuidean, and should he fail Couladin will go next. The older Wise One, Bair, contradicts him, saying he must ask first, and he has not, and furthermore that she does not think he will be granted permission in any case. Couladin is enraged as he argues with her, and Egwene thinks she has never seen an Aiel show so much emotion openly. Amys turns to the newcomers, and Egwene is a bit surprised that she acknowledges Rand instead of her. Rand makes an odd bow to Amys.
“By the right of blood,” he said, “I ask leave to enter Rhuidean, for the honor of our ancestors and the memory of what was.”
Bair remarks that it is an ancient form, but the question is asked, and she says yes. Amys also answers yes, but then Couladin interrupts, angrily declaring Rand is no Aiel and has no right to be here, but Bair shuts him down, and Rand says in a strained voice that his mother was Aiel, to Egwene’s great surprise. Amys answers slowly that it was not his mother, but his father; before Rand can say anything, Seana and Melaine also give their consent, and Amys starts to tell Rand he can go. Then Mat steps forward and says he also asks permission to go to Rhuidean. Everyone is shocked, including Rand, and Couladin snarls and makes to stab Mat with his spear, only to be flung back by Amys and Melaine with saidar. Egwene is astounded at this evidence they can channel, and thinks Moiraine is too, though the Aes Sedai stays still. Couladin scrambles to his feet and spits that it is one thing to let Rand enter, but no one not of the blood may enter Rhuidean; Melaine tells him coldly that this is Wise Ones’ business, and orders him and Rhuarc and Heirn back to their tents. Rhuarc and Heirn leave immediately, and Couladin too, but only after a hatred-filled glare at Rand and Mat. Amys tells Mat it is not permitted; Mat tries to convince them otherwise, but the Wise Ones are firm. Rand suddenly speaks up, telling them that he says Mat can come with him. The Wise Ones debate among themselves, discussing that times are changing, and finally they agree that Mat can go. Amys explains the rules to both of them, saying they may not bring food, water, or weapons to Rhuidean. Rand lays down his belt knife and the round man angreal, and says that is the best he can do; Mat starts pulling knives from all over his clothes, and makes a pile that seems to impress the Wise Ones, adding two from his boots at the last minute.
“They are pledged to Rhuidean,” Amys said formally, looking over the men’s heads, and the other three responded together, “Rhuidean belongs to the dead.”
“They may not speak to the living until they return,” she intoned, and again the others answered. “The dead do not speak to the living.”
“We do not see them, until they stand among the living once more.” Amys drew her shawl across her eyes, and one by one the other three did the same. Faces hidden, they spoke in unison. “Begone from among the living, and do not haunt us with memories of what is lost. Speak not of what the dead see.” Silent then, they stood there, holding their shawls up, waiting.
Rand and Mat look at each other, and finally Mat remarks that he supposes the dead are allowed to talk to each other, at least. Chatting mock-casually, they head toward the city. Once they are gone, Egwene approaches Amys and starts to introduce herself, but Amys interrupts to tell Lan that this is women’s business, calling him “Aan’allein”, and tells him to go to the tents. Moiraine nods, and Lan leaves. Moiraine asks why they call him “One Man” in the Old Tongue, and Amys replies that they know of the last of the Malkieri, and that he has much honor; Amys continues that she knew from the dream that if Moiraine came, it was almost certain Lan would too, but she did not know he obeys her. Moiraine answers that Lan is her Warder, but sounds troubled by the implications of Amys’ words. Then Bair calls Aviendha over, and Aviendha obeys reluctantly; Bair and the others tell her she has run with the spears long enough, and it is time for her to become a Wise One, overriding her protests ruthlessly, and Egwene realizes from their conversation that the reason she’d felt such a kinship to Aviendha must be because she could channel, and for the first time recognizes the ability in all the women present so gifted, even Moiraine. They take away Aviendha’s weapons, tossing them aside, and Egwene angrily asks must they be so hard on her?
“The Three-fold Land is not soft, Aes Sedai,” Bair said. “”Soft things die, here.”
They have her strip off her clothes as well, and describe to her what she must do in Rhuidean – step through any one of three linked rings, and see her possible futures; she will not remember them all, but they will guide her to the beginning of being wise. Egwene realizes this must be a ter’angreal. Then they kiss her in turn and send her off; Egwene watches her go with worry, and then turns back to Amys. The Wise Ones discuss again the need for haste and change, and invite Egwene and Moiraine to their tent for water and shade, where they are served by Aiel dressed in white robes. Egwene asks about them, calling them servants, and the Wise Ones react with shock to the notion. They explain about gai’shain and the core tenets of ji’e’toh, telling a story about it that has the Wise Ones in stitches; Egwene doesn’t understand the story or why it is funny, but laughs politely. Moiraine brings up the letter they sent to her, and asks how they could sound so certain in it, and yet say “if” she came now.
“The present is much clearer than the future even in Tel’aran’rhiod,” the sun-haired Wise One said. “What is happening or beginning is more easily seen than what will happen, or may. We did not see Egwene or Mat Cauthon at all. It was no more than an even chance that the young man who calls himself Rand al’Thor would come. If he did not, it was certain that he would die, and the Aiel too. Yet he has come, and if he survives Rhuidean, some of the Aiel at least will survive. This we know. If you had not come, he would have died. If Aan’allein had not come, you would have died. If you do not go through the rings—” She cut off as if she had bitten her tongue.
Moiraine pretends not to notice the slip, and begins talking about the Old Tongue, and how interpreting it can be problematic:
“And ‘Aiel’. ‘Dedicated,’ in the Old Tongue. Stronger than that; it implies an oath written into your bones. I have often wondered what the Aiel are dedicated to.” The Wise Ones’ faces had gone to iron, but Moiraine continued. “And ‘Jenn Aiel’. ‘The true dedicated,’ but again stronger. Perhaps ‘the only true dedicated.’ The only true Aiel?” She looked at them questioningly, just as if they did not suddenly have eyes of stone. None of them spoke.
Worried that Moiraine is alienating the Wise Ones, Egwene tries to bring the subject back to Dreaming, but Amys tells her that must wait, and Egwene must be ready to become a pupil again. Moiraine begins undoing her dress, and says she presumes she must go as Aviendha did, unclothed? Seana says she should not have been told, but it is too late now. Moiraine asks if it makes a difference, and the Wise Ones are not certain; things are already different from how they saw them going originally. Moiraine tells them not to let Lan see her go, or he will try to follow, and leaves the tent, running toward Rhuidean. Egwene asks if she should go too, and the Wise Ones shoot this idea down with contempt; she is here to learn about Dreaming. Egwene says surely there is something they can teach her now, and Bair chuckles that she is as impatient as Amys was. Amys agrees, but warns her that the first thing she must learn is to do as she is told, and not enter Tel’aran’rhiod again until they say she may. Bair begins to explain to her the rules of Tel’aran’rhiod, including the information that it is possible to travel there in the flesh, but that it is an evil thing and forbidden, for each time you do so, “you will lose some part of what makes you human”. Egwene listens intently, fascinated.
Here we move into the Aiel phase of things, as very aptly indicated by the new Aiel-specific icon. And, Jordan being Jordan, we are thrown headfirst into Aiel politics the moment we get to the Waste.
It’s really really different reading this when you know what’s coming. The infodumpiness of this chapter is mildly irritating to me now, but I remember being utterly fascinated by the hints we get here the first time I read it – everything from the Aiel’s name for Lan to the talk of gai’shain and roofmistresses to the tease about Rand’s parentage. It’s very obvious that the Wise Ones already know who Rand’s real parents were, and I was like tell me already!
It’s difficult not to be annoyed by Egwene in this chapter, but she is in the unfortunate position of being the Clueless Excuse for Exposition Character here, so that we can learn about Aiel culture, and that generally involves being, well, clueless. That, however, doesn’t really excuse how self-centered she comes off as in this chapter.
Speaking of learning about the Aiel, I read somewhere that you cannot understand a culture until you understand what they find funny, something I am strongly reminded of every time I watch anime, and see something that is obviously meant to be amusing, and almost is, sort of, but always seems to veer off to the left at the last second, just missing my funny bone. I’m sure, though, that to the Japanese audience it was intended for, the joke was hilarious. (Well, theoretically; there is plenty of American comedy I don’t find funny either, so it’s actually kind of a crapshoot as to whether you’re dealing with cultural disconnect or just bad writing. Or bad translation, for that matter.)
Woo, tangent. To bring us back on topic, obviously Jordan was just as aware of this rule as I am, considering the point he made of making Aiel humor so impenetrable to his non-Aiel characters, and incidentally his readers. What I’ve never been certain of is whether he did so successfully.
This skirts close to a whole host of issues surrounding cultural appropriation and portrayal of the Exotic Other and the million and one ways that can come back to haunt you that I just really don’t have the time to get into right now, though at some point I’m going to have to address it. I’ve already kind of ignored it the first time it should have been brought up, regarding the introduction of the Sea Folk, Jordan’s other “exotic” Randland culture. For now, let’s just say that in my opinion Jordan did manage to dodge a lot of potential landmines by being so deliberately mix and match with his sources, though the result was occasionally some really weird discrepancies. The one people most often point out with the Aiel, of course, is the fact that apparently the only truly Nordic-appearing people in Randland live in the one place where such light coloring would be at its worst disadvantage – a giant freakin’ desert.
This can be handwaved, partially, by pointing out that the Aiel are not native to the Waste, though where they are supposed to be from originally is something of a mystery that I don’t think ever gets explicated for us. I don’t know enough about anthropology, personally, to speak to whether it’s plausible that they would have retained such light coloring after three thousand years and who knows how many generations there, though.
We’re going to talk more about this later, but I did want to at least bring it up as a Thing, because it is one.
Chapter 24: Rhuidean
Rand and Mat crouch and stare at the fog surrounding Rhuidean, both more than halfway to heat prostration. Mat tells Rand that it was Aviendha he saw running in ahead of them, naked, but Rand doesn’t really seem to believe him, and Mat lets it go. Rand asks Mat if he’s sure he wants to do this, and Mat says he has to, and asks Rand in return why being the Dragon Reborn isn’t enough and he has to be an Aiel clan chief too. Rand replies that he has to go, and Mat says maybe they don’t have to go; maybe those snaky people just tell everyone they have to go to Rhuidean. Rand looks at him a moment, and then says they never mentioned Rhuidean to him. Mat curses, and thinks to himself that somehow he is going to find his way back to that place and get some real answers out of those people this time. Rand heads into the fog, and Mat follows, cursing to himself. They emerge from the mist to see a vast city of marble and glass and crystal, with nothing but huge palaces and treeless broad streets; many of the towers are unfinished, but nothing is ruined, just empty. Rand makes one of the fountains flow again and he and Mat drink their fill, though Mat is uncomfortable once he realizes that Rand had done it with the One Power. Mat looks at the city and wonders if it is enough that he is here, or if he has to do something as well. Rand says “the heart” the Wise Ones spoke of must be at the center of the city, and they set out, finally arriving at a huge plaza filled with randomly placed statues and plinths and metal sculptures and all manner of strange things; Mat realizes they must all be ter’angreal, or something to do with the Power. At the center, to Mat’s surprise, is an enormous tree, next to concentric circles of needle-thin glass columns. Rand walks into the square, pausing next to two small statuettes, one of a man and one of a woman, each holding a crystal sphere aloft in one hand. Rand bends as if pick them up, but then straightens quickly and continues on. As they get closer, they see that the tree has trefoil leaves, and Rand says wonderingly that it is Avendesora, the Tree of Life. Mat jumps up and tries to grab a leaf, but they are too high; he sits against the trunk for a moment instead.
The old stories were true. He felt... Contentment. Peace. Well being. Even his feet did not bother him much.
Rand sat down cross-legged nearby. “I can believe the stories. Ghoetam, sitting beneath Avendesora for forty years to gain wisdom. Right now, I can believe.”
Mat let his head fall back against the trunk. “I don’t know that I’d trust birds to bring me food, though. You’d have to get up sometime.” But an hour or so would not be bad. Even all day.
After a moment Rand sighs and gets up, and Mat follows, asking what he thinks they’ll find in there, meaning the glass columns. Rand says he thinks that he has to go on alone from here; Mat argues with him at first, then pulls out his Tar Valon mark and says they’ll leave it to luck – flame, he goes in, heads he stays out. He flips the coin but fumbles the catch, and the coin falls to the ground and lands balanced on its edge. Mat demands to know if Rand does things like that on purpose, and the coin falls over to the head side. Rand says he guesses that means Mat stays out, and Mat wishes Rand wouldn’t channel around him. Irritably Mat tells him to go on then, and don’t expect Mat to come in after him if he doesn’t come out, either.
“I wouldn’t think that of you, Mat,” Rand said.
Mat stared at him suspiciously. What was he grinning at? “So long as you understand I won’t. Aaah, go on and be a bloody Aiel chief. You have the face for it.”
Rand warns him again not to go in there whatever happens, and Mat nods. Rand walks to the glass columns and seems to disappear the moment he steps in among them. Mat circles the columns, looking for a glimpse of Rand, shouting imprecations about how he’ll strangle Rand if he leaves Mat alone with a bunch of bloody Aiel; to himself, he promises to go in if Rand isn’t out in an hour. Then he stops dead, catching sight of a red twisted doorframe that looks just like the one in Tear. He walks up to it, debating, and then decides one more time couldn’t hurt, and steps through. On the other side, he is initially disappointed to see it is very different from the snakes’ place, with eight-sided star patterns everywhere instead of curves and circles. Everything is covered with dust. He turns back to the doorway, and a voice behind him makes him spin around and grab for a knife he doesn’t have. He sees that the figure behind him is paper-white and taller than an Aiel, with brushlike red hair, pointed ears and sharp teeth; he reminds Mat of a fox. The creature says it is has been a very long time, and asks the same as the snaky guide, that he has not brought iron, music, or fire. Mat replies slowly that he has none of those things, wondering if he was speaking the Old Tongue right now. He tells the fox that he has come for answers to questions, and if the fox does not have them, he will leave. The fox becomes agitated and says he must not leave, and beckons him to follow. The corridor beyond shows the same strange properties as the snakes’ corridor, except this time he keeps passing the chamber with the doorframe ter’angreal over and over again, with his footprints visible in the dust. After a long walk, the hall suddenly ends in a doorway. Mat looks back to see all the openings in the hall have disappeared, and then forward again to see his guide is gone. He walks through to another star-shaped chamber filled with pedestals, and turns to see the door is gone. When he turns back, four men and four women stand on each of the pedestals; Mat notes that the knives they wear look to be made of bronze.
“Speak,” one of the women said in that growling voice. “By the ancient treaty, here is agreement made. What is your need? Speak.”
Mat hesitates, and then asks his three questions, all for clarification on the answers he got from the snakes. No one answers him. Angrily he tells them he has no intention of marrying, nor of dying either.
“I walk around with holes in my memory, holes in my life, and you stare at me like idiots. If I had my way, I would want those holes filled, but at least answers to my questions might fill some in my future. You have to answer—!”
“Done,” one of the men growled, and Mat blinked.
Done? What was done? What did he mean? “Burn your eyes,” he muttered. “Burn your souls! You are as bad as Aes Sedai. Well, I want a way to be free of Aes Sedai and the Power, and I want to be away from you and back to Rhuidean, if you will not answer me. Open up a door, and let me—”
“Done,” another man said, and one of the women echoed, “Done.”
Mat demands to know what that means, and one of the women calls him a fool, and the others echo her. She says that he is wise to ask to leave, but a fool not to set the price, and so they will set the price.
“What was asked will be given.”
“The price will be paid.”
“Burn you,” he shouted, “what are you talking –”
Utter darkness closed around him. There was something around his throat. He could not breathe. Air. He could not...
Ah, so much awesome, so little time. Again, cannot remember if I caught the first time through that the two statues Rand shows interest in are the access ter’angreal for the Big Honkin’ Sa’angreal of Dhoom. I suspect not, though, because I don’t think at this point we’ve been given enough clues on that.
It’s funny how just a little hint of something from an existing legend/story can shore up a newly created one. This is something Jordan does constantly, of course, as we’ve discussed, but here it’s especially nicely incorporated into Avendesora (the reference to Gautama Buddha sitting under the Bodhi Tree) and the Eelfinn (the general Faery/Sidhe allusions, but in particular here the reference to their aversion to iron and use of bronze weaponry).
TSR has always been one of my favorite books in the series, and the Rhuidean sequence is definitely one of the reasons. And though this is mainly because of the ancestor-history trip coming up, it is also very much because of Mat.
Now, as you know, I am reluctant to bring up controversial topics, but – okay, I can’t finish that with a straight face. So, given that this seems to be my month(s) for generating Storms Of Controversy, in addition to what I wrote about the previous chapter, I might as well go for broke and bring up my own little theory about why I think Mat has so much appeal as a character, which I have a sneaking suspicion is going to press some buttons out there. Whee!
See, here’s the thing. As written, Randland is very obviously meant to be an alternate Europe, albeit with random flavors from other regions thrown in. The denizens of the Two Rivers, in particular, are meant to be an homage to the auld English country folk of yore, or at least the image of them as created by centuries of literature. This is in consonance with TEOTW having that oft-mentioned Lord of the Rings feel to it, the hobbits being Tolkien’s own tribute to the same thing.
I posit, however, that Mat is something of an exception to that particular cultural flavoring, especially as he later develops. To me, of all of Our Heroes in WOT (and we have quite a few), Mat is the only one who strikes me as being a particularly American style of hero.
Now, this is not to say there aren’t European (or Asian, or African, or etc.) heroes out there who are brash, hard-drinking, foul-mouthed, gambling, ironic-quipping, devil-may-care, jerks-with-a-heart-of-gold ladies’ men with more bravery than common sense, who would far rather trust to, ahem, luck and go in with guns blazing (or equivalent), but you have to admit that Mat as portrayed manages to ping just about every one of the classic American Hero tropes. In other words, Mat is pretty much the only WOT character who I could remotely envision getting away with a line like Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker.
And, while (a) not all fans of WOT are American, and (b) not all fans of WOT consider Mat to be their favorite character, I think that the reason Mat is generally so often a fan favorite is because of this American flavor to him. Even for non-Americans, considering the depth to which American culture (in particular the Western and the action movie, from which 99% of these American Hero tropes flow) has saturated the rest of the world. Subconsciously, at least to some extent, this is more or less what we have all been conditioned to expect from A Hero, and so we like it when we see it.
Rand and Perrin (and Lan, and Birgitte, and etc.) ping our Hero radar too, of course, but in slightly different ways, from slightly different angles. Lan, for example, is very much a non-American hero, instead evoking an ascetic/noble/haughty/samurai/questing knight thing that is 100% Old World. If I had to try and pin it down for the other boys, I would say Perrin is strongly European in flavor to me, in a very hulking Norse/Viking/Germanic/Black Forest/Roman-era Gaul/I-smash-you-with-my-hammer kind of way, if that makes the slightest amount of sense, while Rand is... um, Ninja Jesus, basically.
All of which is very cool as well, of course, but I venture that these other flavors of hero just don’t have quite the same comfortable, scruffy appeal to us as Mat’s more modern style.
Now, I freely admit I am making some rather sweeping generalizations here, so take it for what it’s worth, but this is my gut feeling on Why We Like Mat, and so I speak it. I feel sure, however, that this will piss off at least a few people anyway. There’s something about making references to Americanisms of any kind (especially in reference to how much influence American culture has beyond its own borders) that seems to make the Internets froth at the mouth. And I get why, trust me – I haven’t liked us too much for the past eight years either. However... that doesn’t make it less true. In My Opinion, Of Course.
Dude, it’s like I’m a switchboard operator over here, with the button-pushing! Whoo! All right, go forth and be outraged, if that be your desire; just do it without the name-calling or meanness, pretty please. I love a well-thought-out and cogent dissenting opinion; frothing at the mouth, however, is just not the one, so let’s not do that. Come back Wednesday for Chapters 25-27. Yippee-ki-yay!