Bonjour, mes amies! No, don’t worry, this won’t be in French. I’ve already done that.
Welcome back to the Wheel of Time Re-read! Today we are covering Chapters 2 and 3 of The Fires of Heaven, rah rah sis boom bah.
Previous entries are here. Spoilers for this and all other currently published novels in the Wheel of Time series are present throughout, so if you haven’t read, don’t read.
And that’s... about the size of things, so let’s get on with it, shall we?
Chapter 2: Rhuidean
From high up in one of the unfinished towers of Rhuidean, Rand listens to the harp song behind him as he stares down into the city. Sometimes he thinks that the place was built only so that he could find it. Then he chuckles to himself that only a half-mad man could be so proud. He watches Moiraine, down in the central square, directing Kadere and his wagon drivers as they load up the Power-related artifacts scattered all over the plaza. One man, trying to move the twisted stone doorframe, slips and falls halfway into it, disappearing above the waist for a moment before his comrades haul him out, crying in terror. The rest of the wagoneers look ready to make a run for it, but Moiraine quickly calms them down and puts them back to work, and Rand thinks that in her own way she is even harder than Lan. Rand is not interested in the artifacts; he’s already taken what he needs from the square. He observes that where once no one but Wise Ones and clan chiefs could go, now hundreds of Aiel were in the city, a large number already living in the buildings and planting crops in the medians of the streets, watered from the huge new lake that now fills half the valley.
Wherever he went, Rand brought change and destruction. This time, he hoped against hope that the change was for the good. It might yet be so. The burned tree mocked him. Avendesora, the legendary Tree of Life; the stories never said where it was, and it had been a surprise to find it here. Moiraine said it still lived, that it would put out shoots again, but so far he saw only blackened bark and bare branches.
He sighs and turns back to the room, where six Aiel clan chiefs recline on cushions on the floor, and joins them there. He notes that Bael and Jheran, chiefs of the Goshien and Shaarad respectively, are sitting as far from each other as possible. He asks what he must do to bring the Reyn to him; Rhuarc says that Dhearic will bring them eventually. Han twists his mouth and says that Dhearic has seen too many men and Maidens sit staring for days, then throw down their spears and run. Bael agrees, and says it has happened among the Goshien and the Tomanelle as well; Jheran growls something about cowardly snakes, and Bael makes to rise, face hard, but Bruan of the Nakai cuts in and says firmly that it has happened in all of the clans.
“You know how hard it was to face what they face. If you cannot name coward those who died because they could not face it, can you name coward those who run for the same reason?”
Han mutters that they never should have learned, which Rand knows is in his direction, and he replies that it had to be told; to himself he thinks that the Aiel had a right to know the truth. He moves on, asking about the Miagoma, and Erim says Timolan never knows which way he’s going to jump, but Rhuarc disagrees; he thinks Timolan will come, as well as Janwin of the Shiande, but they will wait until they have settled things in their own minds. Bruan adds that he believes the Daryne and the Codarra will eventually come as well; they have lost more warriors to the bleakness than any other clans, and Mandelain and Indirian are concerned about holding their clans together. Then Rand asks about Couladin and the Shaido, and the chiefs fall silent. Rand asks if there is any possibility that Couladin will meet with him, more to get them talking than any other reason; he had stopped sending messengers once he learned that Couladin was having them skinned alive. Rhuarc does not think he will be able to break the Shaido away from him, as they believe Couladin is the Car’a’carn; the Shaido Maidens only came because they carry Rand’s honor. Bruan adds quietly that the Shaido’s numbers are growing, though; not all those who run leave their spears behind, and instead they are joining their societies among the Shaido. Rand asks about sending people to join their societies there deliberately, but the chiefs stiffen in disapproval at the notion, and Rand abandons that idea, moving on to news from the wetlands. Rhuarc replies that Rand’s banner still flies above Tear, and the Tairens have done as he ordered, moving into the treekillers’ land to distribute food. None of the chiefs think much of this charity. Rand then notices Moiraine and Egwene standing outside the doorway, and ends the meeting. He tells the chiefs that he will make it end as well for the Aiel as he can manage.
“The prophecy said you would break us,” Han said sourly, “and you have made a good beginning. But we will follow you. Till shade is gone,” he recited, “till water is gone, into the Shadow with teeth bared, screaming defiance with the last breath, to spit in Sightblinder’s eye on the Last Day.” Sightblinder was one of the Aiel names for the Dark One.
There was nothing for Rand except to make the proper response. Once he had not known it. “By my honor and the Light, my life will be a dagger for Sightblinder’s heart.”
The chiefs file out, and Moiraine and Egwene come in. Rand notes that Egwene looks more like an Aiel woman every day. Moiraine tells him that the wagons will be ready to leave for Tar Valon soon; turning away, Rand comments that she’s not needed his permission before, and feels something strike him across the shoulders. Furious, he spins back around, seizing saidin, but cannot tell which woman did it. He thinks it must have been Egwene, but decides he will not be goaded into anything without proof. He demands coldly of Moiraine to tell him what she wants, and not to mention wagons again, “little sister”. Moiraine frowns at him, and he wonders where that came from. She says they should speak alone, throwing a glance at Jasin Natael, who has been in the room the whole time, playing his harp. Rand tells her she can say what she wants in front of Natael, as he is gleeman to the Dragon Reborn, after all, and Egwene sniffs and tells him his head is swollen. He feels anger outside the Void, not for the words but for the fact that she seems to be working with Moiraine against him. He tells Moiraine to get to the point or leave him alone; her mouth tightens, but she pulls a silk-wrapped object from her pouch and unwraps it, revealing what looks like one of the seals, but then she takes out her belt knife and scrapes the edge lightly, and a flake falls away. Rand gasps, and asks if it is a fake; Moiraine says it’s real, and the one she brought with her is the same. He swallows down fear, and asks how.
“I do not know,” Moiraine replied, just as calm outwardly. “But you do see the problem? A fall from the table could break this. If the others, wherever they may be, are like this, four men with hammers could break open that hole in the Dark One’s prison again. Who can even say how effective one is, in this condition?”
Rand saw. I’m not ready yet. He was not sure he ever would be ready, but he surely was not yet. Egwene looked as though she were staring into her own open grave.
Moiraine puts the seal away and says perhaps she will think of something to be done about it before she returns to Tar Valon. Rand is surprised that she intends to leave, and says so, and she replies quietly that eventually she will have to leave him, and Rand thinks he sees her shiver. Then she says they should discuss his plans, and Rand chuckles, thinking so that had been a ploy to get him to reveal what he was doing, and asks why he should tell her. Moiraine shoots back that everywhere he’s gone he has left destruction behind, and Rand quickly counters, not in Tear, then curses himself for letting her put him on the defensive. Moiraine agrees, but says he wasted that opportunity. Rand wants to know what she expects him to do, go after the Forsaken? Moiraine says he doesn’t have a plan, he’s just running, hoping it will all turn out okay. Rand interrupts that he does too have a plan: he means to put an end to the wars, whether he started them or not. Only four Aiel clans crossed the Dragonwall during the Aiel War, and no one could stand against them; what happens when he leads eleven?
“By the time the nations even think of uniting, it will be too late. They’ll accept my peace, or I’ll be buried in the Can Breat.” A discordant plunk rose from the harp, and Natael bent over the instrument, shaking his head. In a moment the soothing sounds came again.
Egwene mutters again about a swollen head, and asks why he can’t see that Moiraine is just trying to help him. Moiraine says that taking the Aiel across the Dragonwall would be the worst thing he could do; the Amyrlin Seat is even now laying the proofs before the rulers of the nations that he is the Dragon Reborn, and once they are convinced they will follow him, because they must. Rand laughs bitterly, and tells her she and Siuan Sanche both are fools; the Tairens knew him for what he is, and still half of them would have been happy to plant a knife in his back. That’s how the nations will greet him, unless he quells them first; that’s why he left Callandor in the Stone, to remind the Tairens he will be back for it. Moiraine stares at him for a long moment, and then tells him to be very careful. Then she executes a perfect curtsy that Rand knows for mockery, and leaves. Egwene hisses at him that he could at the very least be civil, and he deserved no more than he got. Rand snaps, so it was Egwene that hit him, but to his surprise she half-shakes her head before catching herself. He thinks that something must be seriously wearing on Moiraine for her to show so much temper, and acknowledges that it’s probably him. Egwene meanwhile has gone into a full-scale harangue, and he gapes at her until he realizes that she’s trying to make up for her un-Aes Sedai-like slip about Moiraine earlier; Egwene always worked very hard at doing whatever she was doing exactly right.
Ilyena never flashed her temper at me when she was angry with herself. When she gave me the rough side of her tongue, it was because she... His mind froze for an instant. He had never met a woman named Ilyena in his life.
Egwene stops her tirade at the look on his face, and asks if he’s all right. Rand says he’s fine, and asks if Elayne is well; Egwene says she is, with a hint of sympathy, and then says she should go. Then she stops and asks him what it means to be buried in the Can Breat, and Rand doesn’t even know what she’s talking about for a moment. Then he remembers using the phrase, and lies that it was just something he heard once. As Egwene heads for the door, a goblet of wine floats up to Rand; startled, he snatches it just before Egwene turns around again to tell him that Elayne does love him, and leaves. Rand hurls the goblet to the floor and turns on Natael in a fury.
There was a strangely large amount of recapping/exposition about previous events in this chapter, which I mostly elided in the summary. I suppose it makes sense to do a certain amount of recapping for the people who didn’t reread the first four books before starting this one, but it seemed to me that the catch-up exposition here was almost an attempt to clue in people who hadn’t read the first four books at all, which is just absurd. Anyone who starts a series with a book clearly marked “Book Five” on the cover deserves the confusion they get, if you ask me.
Anyway. The most significant element of this chapter, of course, is that it marks the first clearly visible Lews Therin leakage on Rand’s part. Not that it hasn’t happened before, but other than that one episode with Lanfear in the Stone in TDR (and I think one other incident in TSR I can’t call to mind at the moment), it’s been pretty well camouflaged – in other words, it’s mostly only noticeable because we know to look for it, at this late date. The same way Rand’s Power Acquisition Fever Syndrome in TEOTW is screamingly obvious now, but sure as hell wasn’t on initial reading.
I’m not really sure what I thought was going on at this point re: Lews Therin on initial reading, but I’m pretty sure I was a lot more content to let it be nebulous than the Internets in general are interested in being. It’s not exactly a new idea, after all – the concept that reincarnated people can be led to access memories of their previous lives (“I was Joan of Arc in a former life”) – and I didn’t see much point in trying to make it be more complicated than that.
Of course, Jordan makes it more complicated later, once Rand and Lews Therin actually start having conversations with each other, but I’ll leave that alone till we get to it.
Couladin: Skinning people, really? That strikes me as... excessive. I suppose Jordan wanted to really make sure the character was firmly beyond the Moral Event Horizon, but it seems like a little much to me. I had Couladin pegged as a misguided hothead, not a sadistic tyrant. But not anymore, I guess!
Speaking of sadism, the little call-and-answer ritual between the Aiel chiefs and Rand is – well, it’s not sadistic, precisely, but certainly a little... mean. Like, yes, I am totally going to my death for your asses, thanks for rubbing it in.
Egwene: I’m trying really hard not to be annoyed with her here. Lashing out at someone else because you screwed up? So mature, girl. You go. No, really, go. Away. Sheesh.
At least we get to give Rand props for knowing her well enough to realize what’s going on, because otherwise it would have been far too easy for her to have done irreparable damage to their relationship. Not that their relationship is exactly stellar as it is, but it’s better than open warfare.
I do not give Moiraine a pass, either, by the way. I sympathize with her stress, but she really kind of dug her own hole here with Rand. Maybe I shouldn’t fault her for not knowing ahead of time that a method which would have worked on 95% of people was precisely the completely wrong way to go about it with Rand, but jeez, woman. Even Lanfear has recognized by now that bullying Rand is the most counterproductive activity on earth; get with the program, swallow some pride!
Chapter 3: Pale Shadows
Rand pins Natael to the wall with Air and snarls that he warned him never to channel when anyone else is around. Natael calmly points out that if Egwene had seen, she would have thought it was Rand, and besides, Rand looked thirsty. Disgusted with both of them, Rand lets him down; shielded as Natael was, it was like picking a fight with a ten-year-old. He thinks it is lucky that the shield was hidden from female eyes too, with a trick Natael called “inverting”, though he did not seem to be able to teach it to Rand. Natael asks how anyone could suspect in any case; the whole situation is unbelievable. Rand thinks that he would do well to remember the man in front of him is still the same man who swore his soul to the Shadow. He asks Natael if he ever thinks of turning back, and Natael answers that any of the other Forsaken except maybe Lanfear would kill him on sight now, and that’s if he was lucky; as for the Great Lord (“Dark One”, Rand corrects him), if he’s still around when he breaks free, he’ll go find Semirhage and give himself to her before facing that. Rand says it’s as well he’s teaching him, then, though he’s not doing it very well. Natael counters that Rand can seize saidin every time he tries, now, and tell the Flows apart, and shield himself, which is better than nothing.
“Do you think Lanfear really intended me to teach you everything? If she had wanted that, she would have contrived to stay close so she could link us. She wants you to live, Lews Therin, but this time she means to be stronger than you.”
Rand snaps not to call him that, but Asmodean ignores this and goes on that if Rand and Lanfear planned this between them, then Rand got the raw end of the deal. He asks curiously if Lanfear lied that Rand remembered nothing of being Lews Therin, and Rand replies irritably that she told the truth on that one. They discuss linking: men cannot link without women, but women can link by themselves, which Natael theorizes is to make up for women being generally weaker in the Power than men. Women can only form circles up to thirteen alone, but thirteen women who can barely channel in a circle can overpower just about any man no matter his strength in the Power. Rand shivers, thinking of a time when he had been around many more than thirteen Aes Sedai, and changes the subject to the Forsaken. Asmodean sighs and says he’s told Rand all he knows already, which is practically nothing. Rand thinks that some of what he had learned he could have done without, like what Semirhage found amusing, and some made no sense.
Demandred had gone over to the Shadow because he envied Lews Therin Telamon? Rand could not imagine envying someone enough to do anything because of it, and surely not that. Asmodean claimed it had been the thought of immortality, of endless Ages of music, that seduced him; he claimed to have been a noted composer of music, before. Senseless. Yet in that mass of often blood-chilling knowledge might lie keys to surviving Tarmon Gai’don.
Rand asks what Natael thinks of his chances in the Last Battle, and Natael hesitates and then refers to the things Rand had taken from the square; Rand tells him to forget that, he destroyed them. Natael slumps, and says the Dark One will surely win, then; Natael intends to slit his wrists the moment he hears the Dark One is free. It’s better than going mad, anyway.
“What if there was another way to shield against the taint?” Rand demanded. “What if it could be removed somehow? Would you still kill yourself then?”
Asmodean’s barked laugh was utterly acid. “The Shadow take me, you must be beginning to think you really are the bloody Creator! We are dead. Both of us. Dead! Are you too blind with pride to see it? Or just too thick-witted, you hopeless shepherd?”
Rand asks, why not end it now, then? Asmodean answers that he once saw a man hanging from a cliff, and the man grabbed a tuft of grass to hang on to even though he had to know it would never support him. Rand asks if he saved the man, but Natael doesn’t answer, and Rand leaves. He bows to the five Maidens waiting for him outside in the hall, which makes them smile, and asks Adelin where Joinde is. Adelin tells him that she has gone off to lay a bridal wreath at Garan’s feet, adding that Garan is Goshien (Rand knows that Joinde is Shaarad). Enaila remarks that it’s like a spreading illness; one or two Maidens make a wreath a day since they came to Rhuidean. Rand doesn’t tell them it’s his fault, though he thinks they probably wouldn’t leave even if he did. Rand weaves a shield to keep Asmodean in the room, and heads out, Maidens following.
Mat balances on the rim of a fountain, drunk on oosquai and singing:
“We’ll drink the wine till the cup is dry,
and kiss the girls so they’ll not cry,
and toss the dice until we fly
to dance with Jak o’ the Shadows.”
One of the wagon drivers calls out that it’s not right to sing about death like that, and Mat realizes it’s a song that hasn’t been heard in about a thousand years, and thinks disgustedly that at least he hadn’t been babbling it in the Old Tongue. He switches to “Tinker in the Kitchen” and some of the wagoneers sing along. He’s been playing a game with two Aielmen (Corman and Jenric): take a drink, and then try to hit a thrown piece of wood with a knife. No one would play dice or even cards with him anymore, but his winnings from this hadn’t been bad either. The Aiel evidently agree, as Corman suggests they end the game for lack of light. Mat protests that there’s plenty of light, he could do it blindfolded. Jenric mocks his big talk, and Mat jumps down and pulls his scarf up around his eyes, telling Corman to yell out when he throws.
“Now,” Corman called, and Mat’s arm whipped back, then forward.
In the stillness, the thunk of steel stabbing wood was as loud as the clatter of the target on the pavement.
No one said a word as he pulled the scarf back down around his neck. A piece of a chair arm no bigger than his hand lay in the open space, his blade stuck firmly in the middle. Corman had tried to shave the odds, it appeared. Well, he had never specified the target. He suddenly realized he had not even made a wager.
One of the wagoneers calls out something about the Dark One’s own luck, and Mat murmurs “Luck is a horse to ride like any other” to himself. Jenric frowns and asks what he just said, and Mat looks at him a moment and then says nothing, just talking to himself. Corman brings his knife back and says maybe they will play again someday, which is the Aiel way of saying “never”, and Mat can hardly blame him. Being lucky was not all it was made out to be. He sits down on the coping again and thinks of how the memories that used to be separate clumps in his head now blend with his own, and he couldn’t tell them apart from his real memories until he concentrated.
In one part of his mind he knew he had been born in the Two Rivers twenty years before, but he could remember clearly leading the flanking attack that turned the Trollocs at Maighande, and dancing in the court of Tarmandewin, and a hundred other things, a thousand. Mostly battles. He remembered dying more times than he wanted to think of.
He reads the script on the odd spear he had gotten from the foxes again, and avoids looking at the plaza where the redstone doorway is firmly lashed to one of the wagons. A woman’s voice interrupts his reverie, asking if he can do that every time, and Mat looks up to see a blonde and blue-eyed Maiden sit down next to him. She introduces herself as Melindhra of the Jumai sept, and Mat notes that her failure to name her clan meant she was a Shaido Maiden, come to join her society here. He answers, most of the time, which is actually the truth, though she seems to take it as boasting. He evaluates the interest in her eyes, and dips into his winnings and offers her a gold and sapphire necklace, telling her they’ll look pretty with her eyes. Melindhra says it is fine work, and that she accepts his offer. Mat wonders warily what she means by “offer”, but she is going on, saying that her spear-sisters have told her about him. Mat spots Rand heading down the street and excuses himself to Melindhra, hurrying after him.
“Rand?” The other man walked on with his encircling escort. “Rand?” Rand was not even ten paces away, but he did not waver. Some of the Maidens looked back, but not Rand. Mat felt cold suddenly, and it had nothing to do with the onset of night. He wet his lips and spoke again, not a shout. “Lews Therin.” And Rand turned around. Mat almost wished he had not.
They look at each other for a moment, and Mat thinks of how he and Rand had grown up together. They were friends, but now Rand was a friend who could kill him without even meaning to, might have gotten Perrin killed. Mat finally says he’s been thinking about how long it’s been since they left home, and Rand chuckles and asks if Mat is missing milking his father’s cows. Mat grins back a little and says, not quite, but he was thinking of going with Kadere’s wagons when they leave. Rand replies that they all have to do what they must, and that he never tried to stop Mat from staying or going; the Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills. Mat thinks he sounds like a bloody Aes Sedai. Rand adds that he should not trust Kadere, and to watch his back, and leaves; Mat is nonplused, thinking that he wouldn’t have trusted Kadere anyway. He muses about ta’veren, how it’s not nearly as grand a thing as the stories make out. Melindhra brings him his winnings, and comments that she’d heard he was near-brother to Rand al’Thor. Mat replies dryly, in a manner of speaking, and she dismisses the subject. She plants her hands on her hips and tells him bluntly that he had attracted her interest even before he gave her a regard-gift, and likes his smile, and his eyes.
Mat tugged his hat straight, though it had not been crooked. From pursuer to pursued, in the blink of an eye. It could happen like that, with Aiel women. Especially Maidens. “Does ‘Daughter of the Nine Moons’ mean anything to you?” It was a question he asked women sometimes. The wrong answer would send him out of Rhuidean tonight if he had to try walking out of the Waste.
Melindhra says no, but there are things she likes to do by moonlight, and begins to whisper them into his ear. Mat grins.
Oh, Mat, you scoundrel.
Is there a specific term for “derisive yet affectionate snorting sound”? Because that’s pretty much what I do every time I read one of his POVs. By this point in the series Mat was firmly ensconced in first place on my list of favorite WOT characters, and really no one has ever seriously challenged his placement in my affections since.
(Second place, on the other hand, was a hotly contested and frequently shifting honor in my initial readthrough. At the moment Perrin would still be hanging on, because I would not yet have realized at this point that I wasn’t going to see him for about a hundred years.)
I love that drinking games are one of the great constants in the universe, real or fictional. Though I have to say the combination of drinking and knife throwing is a little... edgier than the versions I used to play. (Yikes.)
Mat’s memory thing is always kind of brain-spraining for me to conceptualize, not because I don’t understand the explanation but because I can’t get a handle on how the result would feel. How could you not tell someone else’s memory from your own? I mean, I’m hardly an expert, but I know for a fact that I don’t think the same way many other people do (yeah, y’all have fun with that straight line), so it stands to reason that I don’t construct memories in the same way either. Wouldn’t it be kind of a square peg/round hole situation? Of course, I’m almost certainly overthinking this, because It’s The Magic, Stupid, but I dunno, it’s just supremely weird to try to picture.
One of the more bizarre parts is the time distortion factor, because there’s no way (in my opinion) Mat had enough holes in twenty years’ worth of memories to hold all the extra ones he seems to have, so the total span of all of them added together must be significantly longer than Mat’s actual lifetime – by years, it seems like, possibly even by decades, though that’s probably overestimating it a little. I mean, it’s gotta be like a clown car in there.
Anyway. Slight linguistics fail in this chapter, unless the Old Tongue words for “dry”, “cry”, and “fly” (and “free”, “knee”, and “me”) rhyme as well, which I rather doubt. But we’ll file it under “poetic license”, ba dum dum, and move on.
Or move backwards, whatever: Rand and Asmodean. I forgot that we were introduced to the concept of inverting weaves so early (though I guess the fifth book in a series, even this series, really doesn’t count as “early” anymore). The revelation does seem to indicate that Asmodean is holding out on Rand at least a little, shield schmield, because it doesn’t seem like the Supergirls have any trouble at all learning inverting from Moghedien later on. I dunno, maybe it’s easier for women or something.
Oh, and while we’re on the subject, I have to express my disgruntlement with this whole “strength in the Power having gender differentiation” thing. I’m not sure if I brought this up earlier or not (probably), but while I grant (magnanimously!) Jordan the right to make his magic system follow the rules he wants it to, it remains a thorn in my side.
Because the whole frickin’ POINT of magic, if you ask me, is that it shouldn’t correlate to physical strength, or at least that it doesn’t have to. I really don’t understand the choice here, honestly: assuming Jordan’s goal was to present a more gender-egalitarian society because of the presence of magic (which certainly seems to be the case), WHY miss an opportunity to put women and men on a level playing field? Why not simply make variations in strength in the Power dependent on some other factor, or even arbitrary? You know, the way almost every other attribute other than physical strength is in human beings?
Or hey, if it must be gender-based, you could be really crazy and make women stronger for frickin’ once. Is that too much to ask? Apparently!
Why yes, I would like to have my cake and to eat it too! So There.
*is grumpy* Bah. Oh well. It is what it is, and I will deal, but I had to put it out there.
And we out! Play nice in ze commentses, and have a very merry unbirthday weekend! See you Monday!