Greetings, happy WOT campers! Gather ‘round the electronic campfire, because I have another scaaaary Wheel of Time Re-read story to tell you! Note my metaphorical flashlight held under my metaphorical chin. Whooooooooooh!
Today, boys and girls, we will hear the totally true Legend of Chapters 51 & 52 of The Fires of Heaven, in which (*whispers*) things happen.
What? Look, that’s my best scary metaphorical “whoooooh”, just go with it. Everybody’s a critic, jeez. You’ll act good and scared if you want any of these S’mores!
Previous hootenannies are here. If you read these without reading the original series and spoil yourself, you may be EATEN BY BEARS.
(I would just like to state for the record that Word’s spellchecker has absolutely no problem with the word “hootenannies”. I am amused by this.)
Uh, and also, scheduling note: As I did after finishing TSR, my carpal-tunnel-riddled self will be taking a break once we reach the end of TFOH, which should be either one or two posts from now. Fortuitously, this coincides with my actual vacation, the first I’ve taken since starting this crazy thing. (JANE!)
I haven’t figured out exactly how long I’ll be breaking for, but you can probably plan on at least a week. Because I love y’all and I love this gig, but I am kind of tie-tie, you guys. Your Auntie Leigh needs to not brain for a few minutes here.
But don’t worry, we’ll finish this one first! The show must go on!
Chapter 51: News Comes to Cairhien
Rand smokes his pipe and watches the sunset from a balcony in the Palace, while a young noblewoman named Selande presses against him and whispers not-so-subtle suggestions about places they can go to be alone. Rand tries to ignore her, and thinks about the heat, and how Moiraine and Asmodean both agreed it was unnatural, and both had no idea what could be done about it. He wonders when the next taunt from Sammael will come, and cautions himself not to go off in a temper, but wait until his buildup in Tear was done, and crush Sammael in one stroke. Selande is still hinting heavily at him, so he scares her silly by talking about the taint on saidin and pretending to be half-mad already; she abruptly changes her tune and hurries back inside, and Rand grimaces at himself, but thinks she would only have regarded a command to leave him alone as a temporary setback.
Maybe word would spread this time. He had to keep a short rein on his temper; it ran away too easily of late. It was the drought he could do nothing about, the problems that sprang up like weeds wherever he looked. A few moments more alone with his pipe. Who would rule a nation when he could have easier work, such as carrying water uphill in a sieve?
He looks down over the city below, crowded to bursting with refugees and opportunists and Hunters and even Ogier, and is thankful the grain wagons from Tear are finally coming in regularly; riots over food are the last thing he needs. He frets about the four formerly undecided clans, whose chiefs he hardly knows, and about Berelain, on her way to Cairhien with a small army, debating whether it would be a good idea to put her in charge here when he leaves, and wonders why her letter asked about Perrin. He goes back inside, where Meilan, Torean and Aracome represent the Tairens on one side, and Dobraine, Maringil, and Colavaere (with a trembling Selande behind her) on the Cairhienin side; Asmodean plays harp in the background. Rand sits in the (in his opinion) ridiculously tacky chair carved into dragons Colavaere and the others had had made for him, and thinks they made a mistake there, as the chair only reminds them every moment what exactly he was. Maringil is not happy about the troops Rand is sending out, arguing they’re needed in Cairhien to suppress brigands, but Rand tells him the Aiel are doing that; then Maringil brings up the Andoran occupation west of the Alguenya and Morgase’s claim to the Sun Throne, somewhat uneasily, since they know Rand grew up in Andor, and many believe he is a son of one of their noble houses, cast off because he could channel, and additionally they still don’t know who he intends the Cairhienin throne for. Rand ignores the hint, scares Meilan and Aracome by threatening to ride out and check that their troops are where they’re supposed to be, and then kicks them all out except for Colavaere, who has been behind the constant barrage of young women flinging themselves at him. He tells her Selande is very pretty, but some prefer a more... mature woman, and she will join him for dinner tonight, and waves her off. She curtsies unsteadily and leaves, and Rand laughs harshly in disgust, at himself and the whole situation.
He could sense saidin like something just beyond the edge of sight. He could feel the taint on it. Sometimes he thought that what he felt was the taint in him, now, the dregs left by saidin.
He found that he was glaring at Asmodean. The man seemed to be studying him, face expressionless. The music resumed again, like water babbling over stones, soothing. So he needed soothing, did he?
Moiraine, Egwene, and Aviendha enter, without knocking. Rand says he’s surprised to see Egwene, and wonders if she has more good news for him, like Masema sacking Amador, or that the Aes Sedai she says support him have turned out to be Black Ajah.
“You notice I don’t ask who they are, or where. Not even how you know. I don’t ask you to divulge Aes Sedai secrets, or Wise Ones’ secrets, or whatever they are. Just give me the driblets you’re willing to dole out, and let me worry whether what you don’t care to tell me will stab me in the night.”
Egwene answers calmly that she tells him what he needs to know, and Rand thinks she is as much Aes Sedai as Moiraine now. He asks what they want, and Moiraine hands him two letters, saying they just arrived for him; one letter is sealed with the Flame of Tar Valon, the other with the White Tower. As he goes to open them, Moiraine adds that there are no poison needles in the seals, nor traps woven, and Rand pauses, having not thought of either possibility. He opens the first, signed by Elaida:
There can be no denial that you are the one prophesied, yet many will try to destroy you for what else you are. For the sake of the world, this can not be allowed. Two nations have bent knee to you, and the savage Aiel as well, but the power of thrones is as dust beside the One Power. The White Tower will shelter and protect you against those who refuse to see what must be. The White Tower will see that you live to see Tarmon Gai’don. None else can do this. An escort of Aes Sedai will come to bring you to Tar Valon with the honor and respect you deserve. This I pledge to you.
Rand comments wryly that she doesn’t even ask, and bets himself that Elaida’s “escort” will just happen to number thirteen sisters. He gives the letter to Moiraine and opens the other, which is quite different, praising and flattering him effusively, and warning him that his “splendor” will inspire jealousy, even in the White Tower, yet assuring him there are some who “rejoice in [his] coming” and wait to “kneel to bask in [his] brilliance”. The letter begs him to show it to no one, even Moiraine, as she is “a secretive woman, much given to plotting, as Cairhienin are.” It’s signed “Alviarin Freidhen”. Rand blinks at it, and passes it to Moiraine, commenting sarcastically that it’s a good thing she gave her oath, otherwise he might suspect her now. Egwene comments sotto voce that Alviarin must have heard about his swelled head, but then says aloud that it doesn’t sound like Alviarin at all. Moiraine asks what Rand thinks, and he answers that there’s a rift in the Tower, which Elaida almost certainly doesn’t know about, since Aes Sedai can’t lie in writing any more than they can in speech. Aviendha says he is not going to do this, and Rand agrees that he is not a fool. Moiraine asks what else, and he tells her he sees White Tower spies.
Moiraine smiled. “You learn quickly. You will do well.” For a moment she almost looked fond. “What will you do about it?”
“Nothing, except make sure that Elaida’s ‘escort’ doesn’t get within a mile of me.” Thirteen of the weakest Aes Sedai could overwhelm him linked, and he did not think Elaida would send her weakest. “That, and be aware that the Tower knows what I do the day after I do it.”
Somara puts her head in to announce Mat, and Rand tells the women to stay, knowing their presence would put Mat off balance. Mat strolls in with a grin, disheveled as usual, with an insincere apology for being late. Rand comments that he hears every young man out there wants to join the Band of the Red Hand, and Mat agrees noncommittally.
“The Band of the Red Hand,” Moiraine murmured. “Shen an Calhar. A legendary group of heroes indeed, though the men in it must have changed many times in a war that lasted well over three hundred years. It is said they were the last to fall to the Trollocs, guarding Aemon himself, when Manetheren died.”
Mat says he wouldn’t know about that, some fool just started using the name. Moiraine tells him he’s very brave, leading his Band across the Alguenya to fight the Andorans, especially considering he went alone first, and Talmanes and Nalesean had to ride hard to catch up to him; Mat’s lip curls, but Moiraine goes on: three battles, and three victories with small losses on Mat’s side even though he was outnumbered. Is he drawn to battles, she wonders, or are they drawn to him? Mat snarls that she can play the cat if she wants, but he is no mouse, and Rand watches silently as Moiraine answers coldly that they must all do as the Pattern decrees, and some have less choice than others. Mat glares right back.
“You always have to push a man where you want him, don’t you? Kick him there, if he won’t go led by the nose. Blood and bloody ashes! Don’t glare at me, Egwene, I’ll speak the way I want. Burn me! All it needs is for Nynaeve to be here, yanking her braid out of her head, and Elayne staring down her nose. Well, I’m glad she isn’t, to hear the news, but even if you had Nynaeve, I’d not be shoved —”
Rand interrupts and asks sharply what news, and Mat replies that Morgase is dead. Egwene gasps, and Rand feels as if he’s been gutted. Mat says apparently Gaebril’s been named King of Andor, and claims Cairhien, too, supposedly at Morgase’s behest, though rumor says she hasn’t been seen in weeks. He adds that Gaebril’s the one who wanted Elayne killed, so it’s pretty clear to him what really happened. Rand thinks Elayne would never forgive him; he’d known about Rahvin, and had ignored it because the Forsaken might expect him to react, going after Couladin and Sammael instead. Mat begins saying something about rallying the Andorans to Elayne.
“Shut up!” Rand barked. He quivered so hard with fury that Egwene stepped back, and even Moiraine eyed him carefully. Aviendha’s hand tightened on his shoulder, but he shook it off as he stood. Morgase dead because he had done nothing. His own hand had been on the knife as surely as Rahvin’s. Elayne. “She will be avenged. Rahvin, Mat. Not Gaebril. Rahvin. I’ll lay him by the heels if I never do another thing!”
“Oh, blood and bloody ashes!” Mat groaned.
Egwene tells him there’s no way he can start another war, with Cairhien barely pacified, but he tells her not a war, but a raid; he can be in Caemlyn in an hour, and he’ll rip Rahvin’s heart out. Moiraine says “tomorrow”, softly, and Rand glares, but admits she’s right. Asmodean starts playing “The Fool Who Thought He Was King”, and Rand throws him out in a fury, then tells the women to leave too, but Aviendha and Egwene don’t move. They want to come along, and Moiraine joins them in mowing down every protest and excuse he has not to take them along; finally he agrees, and they go to leave, but Rand says to Moiraine that she didn’t try to stop him.
“The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills,” was Moiraine’s reply. She stood in the doorway looking more Aes Sedai than he ever remembered her, ageless, with dark eyes that seemed ready to swallow him, slight and slender yet so regal she could have commanded a roomful of queens if she could not channel a spark. That blue stone on her forehead was catching the light again. “You will do well, Rand.”
He stared at the door long after it closed behind them.
He catches Mat trying to sidle out, too, and says he needs to talk to him; Mat spins to face him and declares he’s no bloody hero, but Rand cuts him off and tells him he has to stop running; he knows where Mat got that medallion, and he cut down the rope that almost hanged him. He says doesn’t know what exactly got shoved into Mat’s head in Rhuidean, but he’s going to use it.
In the hall, Moiraine tells Egwene to be careful tomorrow, and Egwene answers of course she will, trying to ignore the butterflies in her stomach. Moiraine tells her that Rand will need her and Aviendha in the days to come, as people who cannot be driven away by his rages, and will tell him what he needs to hear instead of what they think he wants to hear. Egwene answers that Moiraine does that, and Moiraine says yes, of course, but he will need them as well. She bids them goodnight and glides away. Aviendha asks if Egwene thinks that these Aes Sedai in Salidar will help Rand, and Egwene tells her to be careful with that name; Rand cannot be allowed to find them without “preparation”.
The way he was now, they would be more likely to gentle him, or at least send thirteen sisters of their own, than help him. She would have to stand between them in Tel’aran’rhiod, she and Nynaeve and Elayne, and hope those Aes Sedai had committed themselves too far to back out before they discovered how near the brink he was.
Aviendha cautions her not to eat in the morning, as battle is not good on a full stomach, and bids her goodnight. Egwene doesn’t think she will eat at all, and wonders what will happen if Lanfear is in Caemlyn tomorrow.
Mat stomps into his rooms at the Palace, reflecting on the meeting with Rand and the relentless way Rand had pinned him down. The problem, he thinks, is that Moiraine was right; battles were drawn to him, and if he tried running away again, he would be almost certain to land in the middle of one again. Which left doing what Rand wanted.
“Good morrow, High Lord Weiramon, and all you other High Lords and Ladies. I’m a gambler, a farmboy, and I’m here to take command of your bloody army! The bloody lord Dragon Reborn will be with us as soon as he flaming takes care of one bloody little matter!”
He hurls his spear across the room, and Melindhra asks from the door what that was about. He asks her if Kadere has found ships to Tar Valon yet; she tells him the wagons are still there, and asks why he wants to know. He tells her he’s going away for a while, for Rand, and she frowns and comments, so he is slipping back into Rand al’Thor’s shadow, when he has gained so much honor on his own. Mat says Rand can “keep his honor and take it to Caemlyn or the Pit of Doom for all I care”. Melindhra says, he is going to Caemlyn? Mat winces and says he just pulled the name from nowhere. The next moment she’s driven her foot into his stomach, following up with a back spin kick to his head. He lands on his back, dazed, and sees her take out a knife and veil herself.
Groggily, he moved by instinct, without thinking. The blade came out of his sleeve, left his hand as if floating through jelly. Only then did he realize what he had done and stretch out desperately, trying to snatch it back.
The hilt bloomed between her breasts. She sagged to her knees, fell back.
He crawls to her, asking her why, and she whispers to him some oaths are more important than others, and tries to stab him again, but the blade strikes the foxhead medallion and snaps at the hilt. She tells him, “You have the Great Lord’s own luck,” and dies. Anguished, Mat thinks he had never killed a woman until now. The hilt of her blade is jade, inlaid with golden bees; he hurls it into the fireplace, and realizes from her last words that she must have been a Darkfriend. It doesn’t help. He makes the connection between the golden bees and Sammael, and thinks her attack must have been triggered by him telling her he was going to Tear. He wonders why on earth one of the Forsaken would be frightened enough of him to want to kill him.
One of the Forsaken had noticed him. He certainly was not standing in Rand’s shadow now.
He sits there, staring at Melindhra’s corpse, and tries to decide what to do.
The beginning of the end begins, eh? Of the book, anyway.
Another stupid long chapter, and so full of portentous moments I quoted like half of it. Sorry.
My sympathy for Rand soared at his thought about how “carrying water uphill in a sieve” would be easier than what he was doing. I am in total agreement, really; power is only fun if you genuinely don’t care what happens to the people or things you have power over. If you are even partially a non-sociopath, however, it is not fun at all. Mind you, I think it can be satisfying and fulfilling, for those who take pride in a difficult job well done, but “fun” is not the word. Especially if it’s not something you ever wanted in the first place.
Of course, it’s not like I have any personal experience of great power of any stripe, so take it for what it’s worth.
Egwene: Again, it’s an ongoing theme of WOT that everyone keeps secrets and no one talks to anyone else and blah, and it would be very easy to completely hate on Egwene for being so cagy and obstructionist with Rand from pretty much here on out. But also again, it’s a question of perspective. We have to remember that unlike us, Egwene is not in Rand’s head, and has to go on only what she sees.
And what she sees is a childhood friend and once-flame who is almost unrecognizable as the boy she knew a scant year ago. She sees, instead, a man under incredible pressure, in possession of a truly frightening amount of power (both political, military and personal), whom she knows is going to go insane, and who is finally starting to show evidence of it. That shit is scary, y’all.
If you think about it, the amazing thing isn’t that she’s keeping certain things from him, it’s that she trusts him at all. (And actually, getting to be in Rand’s head would probably not make Egwene feel noticeably better at this point, what with the, you know, crazy dead guy in there with him. I’m just saying, it’s not like her perception of him as being “on the brink” is even wrong! It’s just – incomplete.)
Concurrently, her thoughts in this chapter make it clear that she’s not keeping secrets from him from some misguided power trip, but because she is worried about protecting him – from the Rebel Aes Sedai as much as from himself. You can have a debate about whether her methods are effective or not, but I find claims that she’s basically doing it for the lulz to be frankly mystifying.
Moiraine: Man, I’m going to miss her. I love how she’s all so proud of Rand here.
What’s so cool about her in this chapter (well, really, in everything from Rhuidean on, but this chapter especially) is how everything she says and does gains this poignant significance, but only after you know what’s going to happen. So it is a completely different experience the second time around. It’s like re-watching The Usual Suspects; once you know the end, it’s like watching a totally different film.
Mat: Enter the Band of the Red Hand, the coolness of which is pretty much overshadowed by Mat getting pummeled by, well, pretty much everyone. And that’s not even counting the assassination attempt.
He needed it, though. I have a lot of sympathy for Mat, and I have a perverse admiration for his refusal to gloss over his scoundrel-like ways for the convenience of others, but I can’t really fault Rand (and Moiraine) for backing him into a metaphorical corner over his commitment issues.
Mat, however, is as stubborn in his own way as any of the main cast, and like so many people it takes matters getting to a pretty dire pitch (As “matters” go, realizing the term “assassination attempt” can actually be unironically applied to yourself is about as “dire” as they can get, I should think) before he begins to come to terms with the fact that yes, you really are that important, and no, it’s really not going to go away if you ignore it. The results of which we will see in the next chapter.
Chapter 52: Choices
Rand finishes shaving in the morning, carefully controlling his anger, and turns to see Aviendha still hasn’t gotten dressed, and is staring at him instead. She says abruptly that she would not shame him in front of other men, referring to Enaila and Somara and Lamelle, and Rand gazes at her and asks if she means to go like that. She suddenly seems to realize she is naked and, flushing, starts dressing in a flurry, babbling to him about the arrangements. Rand wonders why she’s suddenly so flustered about being naked in front of him. He’s taking only Aiel to Caemlyn, and he hopes the Prophecy of Rhuidean was somehow wrong, and that he did not end up destroying them all. Aviendha mentions casually that a woman had come to see him last night, and she had a “talk” with her, and Rand need not worry about “treekiller flipskirts” any longer. Rand asks if she hurt Colavaere badly, and Aviendha sniffs and says her bruises can be easily hidden, and more importantly, she won’t bother him anymore. Rand sighs, but thinks it might actually work. Or it might make things worse.
“Next time, let me handle matters my way. I am the Car’a’carn, remember.”
“You have shaving lather on your ear, Rand al’Thor.”
Asmodean enters, wearing a sword, and Rand demands to know what he’s doing here, instead of following Rand’s instructions. Asmodean replies that setting him to listen here is well and good, but all the talk is of the shrieks coming from Lady Colavaere’s apartments last night, and he doubts anyone will dare to set a foot wrong for days. Aviendha looks smug, and Rand asks softly, so he wants to be at Rand’s back when he faces Rahvin? Asmodean replies, where better than under his eye, where he can show his loyalty? Rand senses saidin in him, weakly, and Asmodean says he is not strong, but maybe he can help. Rand thinks that the shield Lanfear had put on him didn’t seem any weaker than in the beginning, despite what she had said, and thinks it would be like her to lie about it. He’s not sure if he thought that or Lews Therin did, but knows it’s true.
“You know my choices. I am clinging to that tuft of grass on the cliff’s lip, praying for it to hold one more heartbeat. If you fail, I am worse than dead. I must see you win and live.” Suddenly eyeing Aviendha, he seemed to realize he might have said too much. His laugh was a hollow sound. “Else how can I compose the songs of the Lord Dragon’s glory? A bard must have something to work with.”
Rand considers, and agrees, with a warning Asmodean quite understands. He bows and leaves. Rand considers Skimming to Tear for Callandor first, or even to Rhuidean for what was hidden there, but does not trust himself with that much power. He worries that he will try to go straight to Shayol Ghul and end it then and there, and he cannot risk anything but victory there. He murmurs, “The world rides on my shoulders,” and yelps as something pinches his buttock. He demands of Aviendha what that was for.
“Just to see whether the Lord Dragon was still made of flesh like the rest of us mortals.”
“I am,” he said flatly, and seized saidin — all the sweetness; all the filth — just, long enough to channel briefly.
Her eyes widened, but she did not flinch, only looked at him as if nothing had occurred at all. Still, as they crossed the anteroom, she rubbed furtively at her bottom when she thought he was looking the other way.
He opens the door to find Mat standing there with Asmodean, and realizes to his surprise that his usual Maiden guard is gone. Mat tells Rand that Melindhra tried to kill him the night before, and tells the whole story, ending with a bleak “I killed her.” Rand tells him quietly he’s sorry he had to do that, and promises he will settle Sammael soon. Aviendha demands to know what Rand has done that the Maidens are not here, and Rand has no idea. Asmodean suggests maybe it was because of Melindhra, but Aviendha dismisses that as nonsense; if Mat has no toh for defending his own life, than certainly Rand doesn’t. Rand asks Mat if he is ready to ride south, but Mat tells him he wants to go to Caemlyn. Rand considers the possible benefits of having two ta’veren along, and agrees. They meet Moiraine and Egwene in the hall; Moiraine is dressed to the nines, looking regal, and smiles warmly at Mat, pleased that he is going as well, and tells him to trust in the Pattern. Mat looks sour, but Moiraine turns to Rand and hands him two more letters. He sees that both are from her, one to him and one to Thom, and asks what she has to say in sealed letters that she can’t say to his face.
“You have changed from the boy I first saw outside the Winespring Inn.” Her voice was a soft silver chiming. “You are hardly the same at all. I pray you have changed enough.”
Egwene murmured something low. Rand thought it was “I pray you have not changed too much.” She was frowning at the letters as if she too wondered what was in them. So was Aviendha.
Moiraine went on more brightly, even briskly. “Seals ensure privacy. That contains things I wish you to think on; not now; when you have time for thinking. As for Thom’s letter, I know no safer hands than yours in which to place it. Give it to him when you see him again. Now, there is something you must see at the docks.”
Rand thinks this is hardly the time, but Moiraine is already moving off, and Mat mutters that surely an hour can’t hurt; Asmodean adds that it would be well for him to be seen this morning, to allay suspicion. Rand growls, and acquiesces.
Kadere stands in front of his wagon, and contemplates leaving again, but knows he will not dare disobey one of the Forsaken, even though he had not seen Lanfear again since the first time. He has no allies left; all of the Darkfriend wagoneers had long since slipped away, and he still does not know who the Darkfriend Aiel women was who had left him the note. Rand al’Thor appears, with Moiraine, the Warder, Natael, the “young Aes Sedai”, the Aiel wench Aviendha, and Mat Cauthon. Cheers follow them, and Kadere is relieved that for once Moiraine ignores him; yesterday she had made him help uncover the twisted red doorframe ter’angreal, and he had not wanted to go near it to cover it again. He debates trying to get past the Maidens to Natael, and abruptly realizes there are no Maidens surrounding al’Thor at all.
“Aren’t you going to look at an old friend, Hadnan?”
That melodious voice jerked Kadere around, gaping at a hatchet-nosed face, dark eyes almost hidden by rolls of fat. “Keille?” It was impossible. No one survived alone in the Waste except Aiel. She had to be dead. But there she stood, white silk straining over her bulk, ivory combs standing tall in her dark curls.
She smiles and enters his wagon, and Kadere follows reluctantly. He almost screams as he enters and finds Lanfear standing there instead. He falls to his knees, asking how he might serve, and Lanfear tells him she has been too busy to watch Rand al’Thor herself, so he will tell her what he knows. Kadere begins to talk, praying he has enough information to satisfy her.
At the end of the line of wagons, Rand asks impatiently what Moiraine wants him to see; she peers at the wool-stuffed casks protecting the two seals, and murmurs “It will be safe here,” and sets off toward the head of the train, Lan following. Egwene and Aviendha have no more idea what this is about than Rand does, and Rand starts to tell Natael to go find Bael when the side of Kadere’s wagon explodes, mowing down Aiel and townsfolk with the schrapnel. Rand knows instantly what it is, and runs after Moiraine and Lan. Lanfear steps out of the wreckage, holding something bloody.
“He told me, Lews Therin,” she almost screamed, flinging the pale thing into the air. Something caught it, inflated it for a moment into a bloody, transparent, statue of Hadnan Kadere; his skin, removed whole. The figure collapsed and fell as Lanfear’s voice rose to a screech. “You let another woman touch you! Again!”
Moiraine runs toward her, but Lan beats her there, ignoring her cry; he runs into an invisible wall and is flung ten paces away. Moiraine is jerked forward to be face-to-face with Lanfear, who looks at her distantly and hurls her under one of the wagons. Aiel run to the attack, to be engulfed in flame; Lanfear swats them aside absently, looking only at Rand. He seizes saidin and pulls the heat of her fires into the River, simultaneously enclosing her and him in a dome of Air, apart from the other people, but realizes that Egwene and Aviendha are under the dome as well. He tries to trap Lanfear in Air, but she slices his flows and asks which one of them is Aviendha. Egwene screams in agony, as does Aviendha a moment later, and Rand suddenly remembers a weave that cuts them off from Lanfear, and they collapse.
Lanfear staggered, her eyes going from the women to him, dark pools of black fire. “You are mine, Lews Therin! Mine!”
“No.” Rand’s voice seemed to come to his ears down a mile-long tunnel. Distract her from the girls. He kept moving forward, did not look back. “I was never yours, Mierin. I will always belong to Ilyena.” The Void quivered with sorrow and loss. And with desperation, as he fought something besides the scouring of saidin. For a moment he hung balanced. I am Rand al’Thor. And, Ilyena, ever and always my heart. Balanced on a razor edge. I am Rand al’Thor! Other thoughts tried to well up, a fountain of them, of Ilyena, of Mierin, of what he could do to defeat her. He forced them down, even the last. If he came down on the wrong side... I am Rand al’Thor! “Your name is Lanfear, and I’ll die before I love one of the Forsaken.”
Anguish crosses her face, then she answers that if he is not hers, he is dead. She attacks, and Rand almost dies right then in agony, but manages to cut her weave; he counterattacks with Air, trying to knock her unconscious, but she retaliates by trying to sever him from the Source. He barely holds her off, slicing her weaves again and again; another man’s voice tries to tell him how to defeat her, but he ignores it.
If he listened, it might be Lews Therin Telamon who walked away, with Rand al’Thor a voice sometimes floating in his head if that.
“I’ll make both of those trulls watch you beg,” Lanfear said. “But should I make them watch you die first, or you them?”
She’s moved onto the open wagon bed, and now stands before the doorframe ter’angreal, twisting an ivory bracelet in her hands as she tells him she wants him to know pain as he has never known before. She channels, and he is enveloped in pain; he defends himself wildly, but cannot make himself kill her.
A golden-haired woman lying in a ruined hallway where, it seemed, the very walls had melted and flowed. Ilyena, forgive me! It was a despairing cry.
He could end it. Only, he could not. He was going to die, perhaps the world would die, but he could not make himself kill another woman. Somehow it seemed the richest joke the world had ever seen.
Moiraine crawls out from under the wagon, seeing Lan lying on the ground, twitching, and forces him out of her mind. She sees Rand on his knees, laughing and crying at the same time, and feels a chill, but if he is already mad she knows there is nothing she can do about it.
The sight of Lanfear hit her like a blow. Not surprise, but the shock of seeing what had been in her dreams so often since Rhuidean. Lanfear standing on the wagon-bed, blazing bright as the sun with saidar, framed by the twisted redstone ter’angreal as she stared down at Rand, a pitiless smile on her lips.
Moiraine notes the angreal bracelet Lanfear is holding, and thinks of how she had taken it out of a sack of random items and left it at the foot of the doorframe. She climbs up on the wagon, but Lanfear does not even notice her, concentrating on Rand.
Suppressing a small bubble of hope — she could not allow herself that luxury — Moiraine balanced upright a moment on the wagon-tail, then embraced the True Source and leaped at Lanfear. The Forsaken had an instant’s warning, enough to turn before Moiraine struck her, clawing the bracelet away. Face to face, they toppled through the doorframe ter’angreal. White light swallowed everything.
Well. Exeunt Moiraine and Lanfear, stage left. Huh.
I have made it a kind of theme, in these recaps, to compare how I feel about various developments now, at this stage of my extreme familiarity with WOT, to how I felt about them the first time I read them. It always gets especially weird when it’s one of these, a truly major event. Moiraine’s apparent death in this chapter was SHOCKING, the first time.
It still packs quite a punch. I suspect this is in large part because it’s a plotline that’s still un-dealt with, sixteen years later, but also just because, well, wow.
Although, my wowedness does not prevent me from having a couple of problems with this scene.
Prophecy bugs me on a number of levels, mostly because of the utter havoc it wreaks with causality. In this regard it’s only second to time travel on the list of “sf conventions that make you throw up your hands in narrative disgust”. And this particular instance of it is one of the most bothersome examples of this in the whole series.
Moiraine does all kinds of things here to facilitate what happens that she would never have done if she hadn’t already known they were going to happen. Like having Kadere uncover the doorframe ter’angreal the day before, for instance. Or hey, coming down to the docks in the first place! It’s one thing if there had been some organic reason for Rand to have gone down there anyway, but he never would have come near the place if Moiraine hadn’t specifically led him there. If she hadn’t led him there, it wouldn’t have happened that way, and she wouldn’t have seen it happen that way, but she did see it happen that way, which is why she brought him there, and oh no I’ve gone cross-eyed.
Argh. The bit that really kills me, though, is the business with the bracelet angreal. This is the angreal that allows Lanfear to overwhelm and almost kill Rand, which had been in a sack and buried somewhere in the wagons until Moiraine took it out and placed it next to the doorframe for Lanfear to find.
Seriously, what the fuck, over?
Yeah, so she saw it in her vision of the future, fine, but if it had been me, I at least would have tried to change that part of it, to give Rand (and Aviendha and Egwene!) a better chance of survival if for no other reason. But she puts it out where Lanfear couldn’t possibly miss it! I dunno, I suppose there was some reason why everything would get screwed up if Lanfear didn’t have it, but damn. I mean, did she see herself planting it where Lanfear could find it, or did she just see Lanfear using it, and decide to ensure everything was all matchy-matchy with her vision? I know she’s all accepting of her destiny and stuff, but there is such a thing as taking fatalism too far, if you ask me.
Eh. Well, causality gripes aside, it’s still one of the most stupendously momentous events of the entire series, and I’m vaguely sorry I wasn’t active in the fandom when TFOH was originally released, because the fans must’ve gone apeshit over it. I could search the Google Groups archives, I suppose (*pauses for nostalgic sigh over Dejanews*), but, well, I’m kind of busy these days.
So, bye, Moiraine! We luff you, please come back soon! Bye, Crazy Bitch! See you (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) way too soon!
Coupla other notes:
Rand: I forgot that in the middle of all this he comes within a whisker of completely losing it. Again. That boy’s brain must feel like a racquetball.
Also, I have to take a moment to heart the quick little exchange between Rand and Aviendha I quoted at the beginning of the chapter, which is about as succinct a shorthand for Rand’s loved ones’ purpose in WOT as can be imagined. Aw.
Asmodean: Nice little impassioned speech – about how his own survival is the only thing he cares about. Heh. Well, that’s not ironic at all.
Mat: Yay, he manned up! Which just goes to show, manning up is a great way to get yourself extremely... killed. Not exactly the best advertisement for commitment, is it? Good thing Rand hearts balefire!
...Which we will get to Real Soon Now. But not today! Have a scrumdiddlyumptious weekend, chirren, and limber up your eye muscles, cause we polish this puppy off next week! Booyah!