Hey there, kids. Welcome back to the Wheel of Time Re-read! Here be Part 8 of The Shadow Rising, in which we cover, or possibly suffocate, Chapters 25 and 26.
Yeah, I lied again at the end of the last post about getting to Chapter 27, and you’ll see why in a second. Let’s just say, fret not, for you will get your money’s worth of blather here. You may want to take a pee break and grab some caffeine before clicking the cut, is what I’m saying.
Previous entries here, spoilers here here here here everywhere!
Quick reminder again that JordanCon is next week, and pursuant to that, the Re-read will be taking a bit of a hiatus while I’m cavorting in the wilds of the greater Atlanta metropolitan area. Friday and Monday’s posts should go up as scheduled, but thereafter I’m leaving, on a jet plane, and regular posts will most likely not resume until Wednesday of the following week.
Yes, darlings, I know, but you’ll survive, I totally swear. Plus there may be other goodies for you as a result, if you’re good and eat your broccoli. You never know.
All right, let’s do this thang.
Chapter 25: The Road to the Spear
Rand walks in among the columns, and sees another man who he presumes must be Muradin, Couladin’s brother. Muradin is standing stock still, and has a snarl on his face; Rand thinks that whatever he is seeing, he doesn’t like it. Rand takes a step forward.
He is Mandein, a young sept chief. Mandein looks down at the half-finished city of Rhuidean with contempt as a procession heads out of it toward the mountains. Sealdre, a Wise One and his wife, tells him he must listen to the Jenn, and agree to what they ask. He asks if the others will come, and she says most will, and those who do not, their septs will die within three generations. Leaving his men behind, he heads down alone to the procession, joined by most but not all of the other sept chiefs, relieved that they hold to the tradition that no one kills in front of a Jenn. He stares at the two ancient Aes Sedai with the Jenn.
How old must these two be? What had they seen? Could they remember when his greatfather Comran first found Ogier stedding in the Dragonwall and began to trade with them? Or maybe even when Comran’s greatfather Rhodric led the Aiel to kill the men in iron shirts who had crossed the Dragonwall?
A man and two women step out from the procession, and the man, Dermon, says they speak for the Jenn Aiel. Mandein does not like them calling themselves Aiel, and asks curtly why they have been summoned. Dermon asks instead why he does not carry a sword, and Mandein growls that it is forbidden, even Jenn know that; the spears and bow and knife he carries are weapons enough for a warrior. The women with Dermon, Narisse and Mordaine, tell him he does not know why, and he must. Dermon says whoever would lead the Aiel must come to Rhuidean and learn why they do not carry swords; those who cannot learn, will die. Another Aiel chief, Charendin, says then whoever goes to Rhuidean will lead the Aiel? One of the Aes Sedai answers, No.
“That one will come later,” she said. “The stone that never falls will fall to announce his coming. Of the blood, but not raised by the blood, he will come from Rhuidean at dawn, and tie you together with bonds you cannot break. He will take you back, and he will destroy you.”
Charendin shouts that this is a trick, but avoids the Aes Sedai’s eyes; Mordaine tells him that the Jenn are dying out, and when they are gone only they will be there to remember, and they must, or all is lost. Mandein studies Dermon’s face, and abruptly declares that he is Aiel, to the shock of the others, and that he will go to Rhuidean. Dermon tells him he may not enter armed, and Mandein laughs and disarms, saying he will match their bravery.
Rand blinks, and wonders how the Jenn could be Aiel when they carried no weapons. Beside him Muradin’s face is fixed in a frown. Rand steps forward.
He is Rhodric, and twenty years old. He waits with his greatfather Jeordam, watching as the Jenn Aiel draw water from the well below. He thinks the Jenn and their wagons will have to turn east now that they have run into this vast mountain range. Three men on horseback, wearing mail shirts and carrying lances, approach, and Rhodric knows one of them as Garam, son of the town chief. He lowers his veil regretfully and goes to speak with them. He asks Garam if his father withdraws permission to draw water from their wells, thinking that no other town had let them draw water without fighting, but Garam answers that he does not. Then he asks Rhodric if the Jenn truly are the same people as he is.
“They are the Jenn Aiel; we, the Aiel. We are the same, yet not. I cannot explain it further, Garam.” He did not really understand it himself.
Garam tells them that the Jenn are headed east, across the Spine of the World, and notes that they have dozens of Aes Sedai with them; Rhodric knows that there are only four, not dozens, but they make him uneasy; he knows that the Aiel have failed the Aes Sedai in some way, no one knows how, but the Aes Sedai look at them with sad eyes, so he supposes they must know. Garam tells him that his father has an Aes Sedai advisor, though he keeps her hidden, and she has told them they are to move east and build a great city; the Aes Sedai have found Ogier to build it for them. He floats the notion that the Aes Sedai mean to rule the world again, and perhaps they should be killed, but Rhodric is unreceptive to the idea, and Garam brusquely mentions that the Spine has another name: the Dragonwall. Rhodric nods, and thinks of the Aiel’s secret name, the People of the Dragon, which no one spoke of, and thinks it is fitting. He wonders what they will find on the other side of this Dragonwall.
Rand takes a breath; Muradin seems to struggle against taking the next step.
He is Jeordam at eighteen years, watching three men and two women struggle through the snow toward him. He stands, lowering his veil, and asks if the Jenn need help from him,
“You name us that to mock us,” a tall, sharp-nosed fellow shouted back, “but it is true. We are the only true Aiel. You have given up the Way.”
“That is a lie!” Jeordam snapped. “I have never held a sword!”
He tells them where their wagons are, but one of the women, Morin, answers that they are not lost; he nods and tells them to follow him. He leads them to his father Lewin’s tents, and Lewin listens as they tell how they were attacked and their children taken. Lewin promises they will bring the Jenn’s children back, but if they stay among the tents, they will never be allowed back at the wagons. One of the five leaves, and Lewin continues that if they want to come on the rescue, to pick up a spear, but then they will be dead to the Jenn. The remaining men hesitate and then pick up a spear, and then to Jeordam and Lewin’s surprise so does Morin. Lewin tells her she does not need to take a spear also to stay, but Morin says that they have her daughter, and Jeordam is shocked when Lewin accepts this, saying there is a first time for all things. Jeordam tells Morin that if she means to fight, she must dress like he does, and begins to give her basic instruction in using a spear. He notes that she is looking at him oddly, and asks if one of the other men with her is her husband; she replies that her husband mourns their daughter already, and cares more for his trees anyway. Jeordam asks, trees?
“The Trees of Life.” When he still looked at her blankly, she shook her head. “Three little trees planted in barrels. They care for them almost as well as they do for themselves. When they find a place of safety, they mean to plant them; they say the old days will return, then. They. I said they. Very well. I am not Jenn anymore.” She hefted the shortened spear. “This is my husband now.”
She asks him, if someone stole his child, would he talk of the Way of the Leaf? He shakes his head, and she smiles and says he will make a good father. Jeordam is puzzled, but begins to teach her again, and thinks he hears her murmur that she saw his face in the dream.
Muradin is a pace ahead of Rand, snarling silently with teeth bared.
Lewin peers down at the campfire below, adjusting his dustveil; he vaguely remembers a time when there had been more water, when it had not been hot and dusty constantly. His companions stumble around in the dark, no more used to this than he. The girls that had been stolen were down there, including Lewin’s sister Maigran. Everyone else, including Lewin’s greatfather Adan, had been ready to mourn the girls and move on, but Lewin was not. He tells the others that they will wake the girls quietly and leave before the others wake. They head down, making far too much noise, and just as Lewin reaches Maigran one of the kidnappers sits up, knife in hand, and says he’s going to gut Lewin like a pig. Lewin yells at Maigran and the others to run, but Maigran just stands there in shock. The kidnapper grins, taking his time, and one of Lewin’s friends, Charlin, screams and knocks the man down. Another brigand goes to slash him with his knife. Lewin swings an iron kettle into the brigand’s head, and then grabs at something to fend off the other man, and only realizes once it stabs the man that the thing was a spear.
Lewin’s hands sprang away from the haft as soon as he realized what it was. Too late. He crawled backward to avoid the man as he fell, stared at him, trembling. A dead man. A man he had killed. The wind felt very cold.
Then he realizes his friends have killed the remaining brigands. They all stare at each other in horror. Lewin goes to check on Charlin, but Charlin is laid open from the brigand’s sword, and dies. Lewin tells the rest that they must take the girls back to the wagons. They gather up anything useful, but Lewin stops Alijha from taking one of the swords, saying that it is forbidden; a spear can be used to put food in the pot, but a sword is only good for killing people. They return to the wagons, Maigran traumatized and silent, and Adan comes to meet them, asking what had happened. Maigran says in a dead voice that Lewin killed the bad men that hurt her and Colline. Adan is disbelieving at first, but when Lewin tries to explain, becomes enraged:
“There is no reason!” Adan roared, shaking with rage. “We must accept what comes. Our sufferings are sent to test our faithfulness. We accept and endure! We do not murder! You have not strayed from the Way, you have abandoned it. You are Da’shain no longer. You are corrupt, and I will not have the Aiel corrupted by you. Leave us, strangers. Killers! You are not welcome in the wagons of the Aiel.” He turned his back and strode away as if they no longer existed.
Lewin reaches out to his mother, but she turns away, saying coldly she does not wish to see her son’s face on a killer. He screams after them that he is still Aiel.
Rand thinks it does not make sense; Lewin had not known how to use a weapon. Muradin is sweating and shaking, and does not see Rand. Rand steps forward again.
Chapter 26: The Dedicated
Adan clutches five and six-year-old Maigran and Lewin as he watches the wagons burn. His daughter Rhea, the last of his living children, had been one of the ones herded into the prison cart and taken. He tells his grandchildren to stay still and goes to his wife’s corpse, smoothing her hair. Some of the other men, led by Sulwin, come over to him and demand to know what they are supposed to do now. Adan answers that they must bury their dead and go on.
“Go on, Adan? How can we go on? There are no horses. There is almost no water, no food. All we have left are wagons full of things the Aes Sedai will never come for. What are they, Adan? What are they that we should give our lives to haul them across the world, afraid to touch them even. We cannot go on as before!”
Adan shouts back that they will not abandon their duty, and is shocked to see his hand clenched in a fist. Sulwin steps back, and counters that they are supposed to find a place of safety, where they can sing again, like in the stories his greatfather told him. Adan scoffs that the Aiel songs are gone; no one will ever sing them again. Sulwin disagrees, and so do the men with him. A quarter of the camp starts unloading the wagons, taking much of what is there, and Sulwin warns Adan not to try and stop them. Furious, Adan tells Sulwin that he and his followers are no longer Aiel.
“We keep the Way of the Leaf as well as you, Adan.”
“Go!” Adan shouted. “Go! You are not Aiel! You are lost! Lost! I do not want to look at you! Go!” Sulwin and the others stumbled in their haste to get away from him.
Heartsick, Adan studies the wagons, the useless chora cuttings and strange objects like the twisted red doorframe, and wonders if there is any point in saving any of it. He kneels and gathers up his dead wife’s body. He says aloud, weeping, that they have been faithful to the Aes Sedai; how much longer must they be?
Rand blinks away tears, and thinks, the Way of the Leaf is no Aiel belief, is it? Muradin is howling soundlessly now, eyes bulging.
Jonai stands on a cliff overlooking the sea, looking to where Comelle had once stood, and turns wearily to go back to the wagons, now only holding a few thousand people. His son Adan comes to meet him, and tells him excitedly that there are Ogier, which Adan had never seen before. Jonai goes to meet the band of fifty or so Ogier, and is shocked at how bedraggled and gaunt they look. He is distracted a moment, thinking of the last Aes Sedai he had seen, just after his wife Alnore’s death.
The woman had Healed the sick who still lived, taken some of the sa’angreal, and gone on her way, laughing bitterly when he asked her where there was a place of safety. Her dress had been patched, and worn at the hem. He was not sure she had been sane. She claimed one of the Forsaken was only partly trapped, or maybe not at all; Ishamael still touched the world, she said. She had to be as mad as the remaining male Aes Sedai.
One of the Ogier observes that they have chora cuttings; Jonai replies curtly that they have some. The chora trees do not interest him as much as keeping his people alive. He and the Ogier exchange news, all of it bad; then the Ogier woman asks him if he knows where the stedding are, and Jonai is shocked, saying surely they can find them. The Ogier say that it has been too long, and the land changed so much; she thinks they must find a stedding soon or die. Jonai replies sadly that he cannot help them. The pain and loss of everything overwhelms him, and he falls to the ground, feeling a viselike squeezing in his chest. Adan crouches over him, calling his name, and Jonai gasps to him to take the people south.
“Listen. Listen! Take them—south. Take—the Aiel—to safety. Keep—the Covenant. Guard—what the Aes Sedai—gave us—until they—come for it. The Way—of the Leaf. You must—” He had tried. Solinda Sedai must understand that. He had tried.
Rand doesn’t understand; how can these people be Aiel? Muradin is clawing at his face now, leaving bloody gouges.
Wearing his work clothes, cadin’sor, Jonai hurries to the Hall of Servants, trying not to look at the ruined buildings and dead chora trees. He is only sixty-three, but feels like an old man. The ground still shakes occasionally. He hurries inside, where people are darting about with boxes and papers in barely suppressed panic, and to one of the rooms above, where six Aes Sedai argue with each other. They are all women; Jonai wonders if men would ever stand in a meeting like this again. He shudders to see that on the table lies the banner of Lews Therin Kinslayer, held down by a crystal sword; he wonders why the accursed thing had not been destroyed. One of the Aes Sedai, Oselle, is shouting at Deindre: what good is her Foretelling if it cannot tell them when? Solinda steps in, telling them arguing is pointless; Jaric and Haindar will be there by tomorrow. They continue to argue anyway, and Jonai tunes them out, seeing that Someshta is also in the room. The Nym has a large brown fissure in the greenery of his head now, and asks Jonai if he knows him; Jonai replies sadly that he is Jonai’s friend, and thinks that he had heard about this, and that most of the Nym were dead.
“Singing,” Someshta said. “Was there singing? So much is gone. The Aes Sedai say some will return. You are a Child of the Dragon, are you not?”
Jonai winced. That name had caused trouble, no less for not being true. But how many citizens now believed the Da’shain Aiel had once served the Dragon and no other Aes Sedai?
Solinda Sedai calls him over and asks if he is ready; Jonai says yes, but tells her that some wish to stay and serve still. Solinda tells him that the courage of the Da’shain is unparalleled, talking of how they had bought the citizens of Tzora time to flee by singing to Jaric; he listened for hours before killing the last Aiel and turning Tzora into a sheet of glass. But the citizens of Paaren Disen have already fled, and she means to save the Da’shain; Deindre cannot see what, but she knows they still have a part to play. Jonai agrees reluctantly, and Solinda asks if Coumin has calmed down; Jonai replies shamefully that his father tried to talk them into resisting, and is hiding somewhere in the city with a shocklance. Tears come to Solinda’s eyes, and she asks him to see that the Aiel keep to the Way of the Leaf even if all else is lost; Jonai is shocked to hear her even suggest it. The Covenant was the Aiel; Coumin was an aberration. Solinda sends him off, and as he leaves, he hears her resume the discussion with the other Aes Sedai:
“Can we trust Kodam and his fellows, Solinda?”
“We must, Oselle. They are young and inexperienced, but barely touched by the taint, and... And we have no choice.”
“Then we will do what we must. The sword must wait. Someshta, we have a task for the last of the Nym, if you will do it. We have asked too much of you; now we must ask more.”
Jonai hurries back to the gathering place, where thousands of wagons wait, filled with food and water and angreal and sa’angreal and ter’angreal, all the things which must be kept away from male channelers going mad. Once there would have been other ways to carry them, “jo-cars and jumpers, hoverflies and huge sho-wings”, but now wagons and horses had to suffice. Jonai greets his family, and no one mentions Coumin. He waves his arms to begin, and the huge caravan of wagons begins the journey out of Paaren Disen.
Rand thinks it is too much; Muradin is digging at his eyes now, digging them out of their sockets.
Coumin kneels at the edge of the plowed field, in the line with the other Da’shain Aiel and Ogier; he was sixteen, and finally allowed to join in the Singing. He watches the soldiers and Ogier across the way, with their shocklances and armored jo-cars, with morbid fascination: they killed. Charn, his father’s greatfather, claimed that once there had been no soldiers, but Coumin doesn’t believe it; if there were no soldiers, who would keep the Nightriders and Trollocs from killing everyone? Charn claimed there had been no Trollocs then either, and no one knew of the Dark Lord of the Grave. He enjoyed Charn’s stories about times when there was no such thing as “war” even if he did not completely believe them, but some muttered at Charn for telling them, especially the ones where he claimed to have once served one of the Forsaken. And not just any Forsaken, but Lanfear herself. Someshta approaches the field, and the Singing begins, the Nym taking the threads of the Ogier and Aiel song and weaving them into the soil and the seeds until they sprout, and Charn takes satisfaction that the plants will never be blighted or puny because of what they do. After they finish, one of the Ogier goes to one of the soldiers and asks for news.
The soldier hesitated. “I suppose I can tell you, though it is not confirmed. We have a report that Lews Therin led the Companions on a strike at Shayol Ghul this morning at dawn. Something is disrupting communications, but the report is the Bore has been sealed, with most of the Forsaken on the other side. Maybe all of them.”
The Ogier breathes that it is over, then, and the soldier looks uncertain, but supposes so, though he adds that there are still Trollocs and Nightriders to fight. Stunned, Coumin goes to find Charn, hurrying through the city which is full of wild celebration; suddenly something hits him in the mouth and he falls, looking up to see a townsman standing over him. The man tells Coumin angrily that the Forsaken are dead, and Lanfear will not protect him anymore; they will root out all those who served the Forsaken and do the same as they did to that crazy old man. The woman with the townsman tugs him away, and Coumin gets up and runs to Charn’s inn, where he finds the old man strung up in the backyard, dead.
Rand quivered. The light from the columns was a shimmering blue haze that seemed solid, that seemed to claw the nerves out of his skin. The wind howled, one vast whirlwind sucking inward. Muradin had managed to veil himself; bloody sockets stared blindly above the black veil. The Aiel was chewing, and bloody froth dripped onto his chest. Forward.
Charn is twenty-five, and heads down the street under the chora trees as jo-cars hum quietly by. He has decided to accept Nalla’s offer of marriage, even though it means he will have to switch service to Zorelle Sedai; Mierin Sedai has already given her blessing, though. He rounds a corner and crashes into a man, who irritably tells him to watch where he is going; the woman with him, embarrassed, tells the man to look at Charn’s hair, he is Aiel. Chagrined, the man apologizes profusely, and Charn replies that it was his own fault, and asks if the man is injured. Before he can answer, the ground ripples, and so does the air. The man asks Charn what that was, and other citizens who saw his short-cut hair gather to ask the same, but he ignores them, looking up at the Sharom, floating a thousand feet above the domes of the Collam Daan.
Mierin had said today was the day. She said she had found a new source for the One Power. Female Aes Sedai and male would be able to tap the same source, not separate halves. What men and women could do united would be even greater now that there would be no differences. And today she and Beidomon would tap it for the first time—the last time men and women would work together wielding a different Power. Today.
What seemed a tiny chip of white spun away from the Sharom in a jet of black fire; it descended, deceptively slow, insignificant. Then a hundred gouts spurted everywhere around the huge white sphere. The Sharom broke apart like an egg and began to drift down, falling, an obsidian inferno. Darkness spread across the sky, swallowing the sun in unnatural night, as if the light of those flames was blackness. People were screaming, screaming everywhere.
With the first spurt of fire, Charn broke into a run toward the Collam Daan, but he knew he was too late. He was sworn to serve Aes Sedai, and he was too late. Tears rolled down his face as he ran.
Rand holds his head, wondering if he had really just seen the hole being drilled in the Dark One’s prison; he is standing at the edge of the glass columns, looking at Avendesora, the only chora tree left. There is no sign of Muradin, and Rand doesn’t think there will be. Suddenly he sees something in the branches of Avendesora, a human figure hanging from a pole stretched between two branches. He shouts and seizes saidin, leaping across the square and slashing at the rope, and Mat falls to the ground along with the pole, which Rand sees is actually an odd spear with a short sword blade in place of a spear point. Rand rips the rope away and listens to Mat’s chest, tearing away a silver medallion around Mat’s neck, in the way. He hears nothing, and remembering how Haral Luhhan had revived a boy found floating in the Winespring once, he pounds on Mat’s chest and breathes air into his lungs until Mat coughs and wheezes, rolling onto his side.
Mat touched the piece of rope with one hand and shivered. “Those flaming—sons—of goats,” he muttered hoarsely. “They tried—to kill me.”
Rand asks who did, and Mat tells him about the second doorframe ter’angreal; Rand asks if he got answers, and Mat says no. He picks up the foxhead medallion and stuffs it in his pocket, then examines the spear. Rand sees it has some strange script engraved on the haft along with two birds that he thinks are ravens. Mat laughs hoarsely and levers himself to his feet, saying he’ll keep their little joke, at any rate.
Mat nodded. “What it says—
“Thus it our treaty written; thus is agreement made.
Thought is the arrow of time; memory never fades.
What was asked is given. The price is paid.
“A pretty joke, you see. I’ll slice them with their own wit if I ever get the chance. I’ll give them ‘thought and memory.’ ”
Rand can’t see most of the script anymore, but he’s pretty sure he can’t read it, and wonders how Mat can. He suggests leaving, and Mat is fine with that. They head back to the fountain; Rand pauses a moment by the two figurines with crystal spheres, but thinks, not yet, and leaves them there. He soon realizes there is wind where there should be none, and feels murderous eyes on them. He seizes saidin, and Mat mutters that he thinks they’re in trouble. Rand thinks it’s one of those bubbles of evil again, and they start running. The dust forms into clawed creatures which attack them. Rand and Mat fight, Mat using the sword-bladed spear as if he’d always known how, but there are too many of the dust creatures, and they are soon covered in blood from their wounds. Suddenly Rand remembers what Lanfear had said about him not using a tenth part of what he can do, and laughs; he channels whirlwinds into the dust creatures, bursting them all at once, and Mat demands to know why he didn’t just do that in the first place. More dust creatures start forming, and they run for it, through the mist wall and out of the city. The creatures do not follow, and Mat croaks in surprise that it’s almost sunrise. Rand thinks of the words of the Aiel prophecy, and leads Mat toward the mountain.
When asked by fans at signings and such which scene/character/thingy of WOT was his favorite, Jordan nearly always (to my knowledge) gave the same answer: that he liked best whoever or whatever he was writing at that moment. I do not presume to have known his inner mind, by any means, but I always personally believed this answer to be at least half diplomacy on his part – not diplomacy toward the fans, so much as diplomacy toward the series itself.
I know, you’re like, Leigh, it’s a series of books; it doesn’t have feelings. And I answer, I ain’t crazy, fool, I know that – but its creator did. Have feelings, I mean. And... you’re either going to get that, or not. It’s an artist thing; artists are weird.
That being said, a little bird recently told me that Jordan also once said, in a rather more intimate setting (but still in public, to fans), that he regarded these two chapters – the Aiel ancestor history sequence – to be the piece of writing that he was most proud of.
I’d say amen, personally.
Back in the recaps for TEOTW, I mentioned that I felt kind of stupid summarizing the Big Ass Ending, and toyed with the idea of telling you guys to just go read it instead, as a summary could not possibly do the prose justice. That feeling came back a hundredfold for these two chapters, and honestly the only reason I didn’t throw my hands in the air and tell y’all “just go read it” this time is because I know some folks reading this blog don’t actually have access to their books.
So I did the summary, even though I feel it borders on insulting to have done so, in a weird way. Not to mention, I ended up leaving in so much detail it’s rather laughable to even call it a “summary” anyway; it’s practically an abridgment – a crappy one, at that.
I’m not trying to be all self-flagellating here to no purpose; what I’m trying to say is that I’ve always loved this particular sequence, but it was only when I sat there and went through line by line to summarize it that I realized just how elegantly constructed and powerfully affecting it really is. It’s frickin’ gorgeous, is what it is, y’all. Whatever other flaws exist in the work as a whole, and they do exist, does not change the fact that in my opinion, these twenty-odd pages of text are just about perfect.
It’s stuff like this that always re-awakens both my irritation at the ghettoization of sf literature (and the resistance in the mainstream to its right to even use the term “literature”), and my awe that I was lucky enough to have stumbled into this particular slightly less trammeled (or at least, less well-lit and dusted) aisle of the human library as a kid – and that I was smart enough to dig in with claws and teeth to keep from being dragged out ever again. Because it means I get to read stuff like this.
What you’ve got here, kids, is a two-chapter mosaic puzzle box that is only nominally a history of the Aiel people, and is in actuality both a retelling of the Fall (yes, that Fall), and an expression of the raison d’etre of the entire series (as signified by the use of the serpent and wheel icons for both chapters, rather the Aiel or Dragon icon). Reading it is like playing a winning game of Tetris, where the pieces all twist and fall and slot in among each other exactly right, and then you get the long piece and blammo, the whole thing melds together and disappears and you get 5,000 points.
Yes, I just used Tetris as a literary metaphor, shut up.
Anyway. There’s so much packed into this that I hardly know where to begin, so I’ll just start banging on points as they jumped out at me:
One thing which has always been rather hotly debated about this whole sequence is whether calling it an “ancestor history” is even technically correct. In other words, was Rand seeing through the eyes of his literal ancestors – his direct bloodline – or was he seeing the memories of a specifically selected family tree chosen to represent all Aiel? If the former, then that would mean that Muradin was not actually seeing the same thing Rand did – that every Aiel who went into the columns would see something different, according to what their specific ancestors did. If the latter, then that means that every Aiel who goes in sees the same story through the same eyes.
I tend to lean toward the second option, mainly because even accounting for ta’veren Plot Deviceness, having Rand just happen to be directly descended from the Aiel who actually served Mierin/Lanfear, and was an actual eyewitness to the drilling of the Bore... that’s just way too convenient for me. It makes more sense that somehow the columns were used to preserve the memories of Charn’s family line specifically, as the best representation of the history of the Aiel and why they ended up the way they did. Others disagree with me, though. What do you think?
Other points of interest: Just brilliant, the way all the little details wove together to show how the Aiel’s culture developed, everything from the clothes to the hairstyle to why they don’t touch swords to the origin of the veils. The first Maiden. The Song, and why the Tinkers are the Lost Ones. Even the founding of Cairhien, and the origin of the events that would eventually lead to Laman’s Sin, the Aiel War and Rand’s birth. Little throwaway lines that sketch in so much detail; my favorite was Jonai’s line about how he was sixty-three, “in the prime of life”, and yet felt old, which tells you about a million things about Jonai’s culture and life in one sentence.
The sequence reiterates most or all of the dominant themes in WOT. Most obvious, of course, is the theme of story decay, reflected in how even within one generation, the whys and hows of tradition and history can be blurred and twisted and lost; the terrible irony of how the Aiel came to be virtually the exact opposite of how they began, and yet every step of that transformation seems inevitable – all through lack of knowledge. “Something is disrupting communications”, indeed.
(By the way, if you haven’t read the short story “The Strike at Shayol Ghul”, do yourself a favor and do so. It used to be hosted at Tor’s old website, in fact, but apparently not anymore.)
The other most prevalent theme is the emphasis on the lack of balance; how the tainting of saidin and the disruption of the harmony between the male and female halves of the One Power represented both symbolically and literally the fracturing of the entire world. One thing I hadn’t really thought about in previous re-reads but which struck me powerfully now is how, in the scene with Jonai and Solinda Sedai in the Hall of the Servants, it is obvious that “Jaric and Heindar”, the two mad male Aes Sedai coming to destroy Paaren Disen, were men that Solinda and the other Aes Sedai knew personally; they were colleagues, possibly friends (despite the poor state of relations between male and female Aes Sedai even before saidin was tainted), and now they were insane and destroying the world. That... that really sucks, there.
The irony of Eve oops I mean Mierin telling Charn that she thought she was going to find a power that would eliminate the differences between men and women’s One Power wielding, and thus bring greater harmony... well. Clever. Annoying, because Lanfear essentially gets to be both Eve and Lilith in WOT, thus representing a double whammy of how women are the root of all evil, sigh, but then it is rather difficult to ignore the Eve aspect of a Fall retelling, so, clever as well.
At least Lanfear had a male sidekick in on it, though I always wondered why Beidomon never had any other part in the story. I suppose it’s most likely that he was simply killed outright when the Sharom blew up, while Lanfear... what? Bargained for her life and later bought into the party line? Was forcibly turned? Was like, “ooh shiny, can I have some?” We may never know!
Well, there’s plenty more here I could ramble about, but I’m kind of spent, so discussion of Mat will be postponed till the next time he’s on screen. For the rest, I will leave it to you guys to pick up on anything I missed.
But in conclusion, Made Of Awesome. Bravo.
Bedtime, yo! Friday takes us back to Perrin’s story with Chapters 27-29. See you there!