Hola, amigos! Welcome back to the Wheel of Time Re-read!
Today we will be covering the absolutely totally for reals last chapter in the fifth book of the series, The Fires of Heaven, in which there should be some decent wine – BUT THERE ISN’T. Dun!
Previous entries are located in our handy Index. This and all other posts contain spoilers for all currently published novels in the Wheel of Time series, so please beware.
Before we get started, let’s take a moment to gaze upon TFOH’s cover art, which I realized that, as with TSR, I somehow neglected to mention until the last post on the book. Which is a shame, because I’m pretty sure that TFOH’s cover is my favorite of all the American WOT covers published thus far.
Mat’s foxhead “medallion” looks absurd (and I’m not too wild about his spear, either), and Rand looks a little... craggy for a twenty-year-old (actually, I think he looks sort of like Tom Berenger, which is just wrong), but the architecture in the background is gorgeous, and I love the dawn-like colors and the shading of the light and shadow. Plus, you can actually tell that the Trollocs lurking in the alley are not just humans wearing animal-shaped helmets if you look closely enough. Continutity, yay!
So there’s that. And now let’s polish this puppy off, shall we?
Chapter 56: Glowing Embers
Rand stands on the sill of a high window in the throne room and watches Mat, Aviendha and Asmodean in the courtyard below. He wonders if Asmodean has any suspicion of what happened, even though he should remember nothing. He is interrupted by a polite cough from Enaila, and Rand climbs down and asks for news; Enaila tells him they still hunt Trollocs, but the city is more or less secure. Somara adds that they have made him some soup; Rand regards it with suspicion, and asks hopefully if any of the cooks have come back yet, but Enaila shakes her head scornfully. He is rescued from having to eat it by the approach of a man carrying a wine jug and two goblets.
“I am Davram Bashere, Marshal-General of Saldaea. I am here to speak with the Lord Dragon, who rumors in the city say is here in the Royal Palace. I assume that I address him?” For an instant his eyes went to the glittering Dragons twining red-and-gold around Rand’s arms.
Rand confirms it, and expresses surprise that a Saldaean lord is in Caemlyn; Bashere replies he came to speak to Morgase, or “King” Gaebril, but he’s heard she’s dead. Rand tells him he killed Gaebril, but not before Gaebril killed Morgase. Bashere asks if he hails King Rand of Andor, then, and Rand snaps back that Andor has a queen, and Elayne will rule; he is the Dragon Reborn, and that’s as much as he wants, “and more”. Bashere appears unfazed by his anger, and explains that he was sent by Queen Tenobia to hunt down the false Dragon Mazrim Taim after the White Tower let him escape, and he has followed the man to Andor, but he assures Rand that he left his army north of the border. Rand hesitates, and tells Bashere that he cannot have Taim. Bashere asks why.
“I am announcing an amnesty. I can channel, Lord Bashere. Why should another man be hunted down and killed or gentled because he can do what I can? I will announce that any man who can touch the True Source, any man who wants to learn, can come to me and have my protection. The Last Battle is coming, Lord Bashere. There may not be time for any of us to go mad before, and I would not waste one man for the risk anyway.”
He continues that last time the Trollocs came, they had Dreadlords with them, and he does not know how many Aes Sedai will fight with him this time. Bashere comments flatly that he has Tear, Cairhien, and now Caemlyn; does he mean to conquer the world with his Aiel and army of channeling men? Rand replies, if he must; he would welcome a ruler who allies with him, but so far he’s seen precious little of that. The world needs peace before Tarmon Gai’don arrives, and if the only way to have it is to impose it, so be it. Bashere breaks the seal on the jug, and says he has read the Prophecies of the Dragon, as has Tenobia; he cannot speak for the other Borderland nations, but he thinks Saldaea will march with the Dragon Reborn. In the meantime, he offers his services. He hands Rand a goblet of wine, and Rand stares into it.
“Peace is far off yet,” he said softly. “It will be blood and death for some time to come.”
“It always is,” Bashere replied quietly, and Rand did not know which statement he was speaking to. Perhaps both.
Asmodean wanders away from the courtyard, tired of playing for people who do not listen, and thinks he did not want to think about what might have happened that morning; he’s seen the damage to the Palace, and knows what caused it. He wonders if being “reborn” in that way makes him a new man, but he doesn’t think so, and mourns his lost immortality. He thinks he is not sorry Lanfear is dead, nor Rahvin, but Lanfear especially.
He would laugh when each of the others died, too, and most for the last. It was not that he had been reborn as a new man at all, but he would cling to that tuft of grass on the cliff’s brink as long as he could. The roots would give way eventually, the long fall would come, but until then he was still alive.
He pulled open a small door, intending to find his way to the pantry. There should be some decent wine. One step, and he stopped, the blood draining from his face.
“You? No!” The word still hung in the air when death took him.
Morgase wipes sweat from her brow, and observes Tallanvor, riding ahead of her; she thinks it had been a good decision to not use titles, but that there is something disturbing in Tallanvor’s eyes when he calls her just “Morgase”. She curses Bryne for being off chasing fugitives, and thinks of her lack of success in rallying supporters in Andor; now they are in Altara. Lini comes up and advises her to be careful of Tallanvor; Morgase asks sharply whether she thinks him dangerous.
“Only the way any man can be dangerous. A fine figure of a man, don’t you think? More than tall enough. Strong hands, I should think. ‘There’s no point letting honey age too long before you eat it.’”
Morgase thinks the last thing she needs is to take up with an armsman ten years her junior, and warns Lini to hold her tongue. Lini snorts, and then asks if she’s sure she wants to do this. Morgase replies she will find her allies where she can. Tallanvor and Gill turn back to them, and Tallanvor tells her there’s a ferry nearby that can get them to Amadicia before dark. He also asks if she’s sure about this, and Morgase ignores his unsettling gaze and tells “young Tallanvor” that she’s made up her mind. She heels her horse ahead.
She would find her allies where she found them. She would have her throne back, and woe to Gaebril or any man who thought he could sit on it in her place.
Okay, first I am commenting on the NON-ASMODEAN parts of this chapter. Keep your pants on.
Rand: I distinctly remember my reaction the first time I read that he was introducing an amnesty for men who could channel, which was that I thought it was a completely logical move that was also the worst idea I’d ever heard. I’m pretty sure my mental comment was, “well, THAT’S not going to go horribly wrong, nosirree!” The surprising thing is that overall (so far, at least), I’ve been wrong. That could change, of course. Given Taim’s antics in KOD (what I recall of them anyway), actually, I’d be shocked if it didn’t. We Shall See.
Bashere: I love Bashere. He’s just cool from the moment he shows up, for much the same reasons Bryne and Lan are cool. Meaning, they are literally cool, no matter what. None of them are cowed by much of anything, be it Aes Sedai or the Dragon Reborn or seven million Trollocs coming their way or whatever, they’re just like “yeah, pretty much”, and get down to business.
I heart all three of them, but Bashere especially, strolling into a Palace the Dragon Reborn has just mostly torn apart and being all “yo, I gots booze!” Heh.
Morgase: the fact that her little vignette ends the entire book implied that Lord of Chaos would be much more oriented around that storyline than I recall it ending up being, really. Thank God, because that whole thing annoyed the piss out of me the first time around and every subsequent reading thereafter, and I seriously doubt this time’s going to change anything on that score. Therefore, that is all I have to say about it until such time as I am forced to recap it again in LOC.
Which brings us, inevitably, inexorably, indubitably, to the goddamn freaking murder of goddamn freaking Asmodean.
FIRST, before any of y’all do ANYTHING else, if you haven’t already read, in its entirety, the WOTFAQ’s article on Asmodean’s death, do so now.
Seriously. Yes, I know it’s not updated for KOD, I don’t care, and that’s barely relevant anyway. Read it. Read it now. I am totally not kidding.
Why? Simple: In the fervent interests of avoiding the flagellation of extremely deceased and by now frankly stanky equine corpses, you are not authorized to have an opinion on who killed Asmodean until you at LEAST read what is still, if I and Pam Korda (and multiple others) do say so ourselves, one of the more comprehensive and comprehensible compliations of the facts, speculation and conflicting theories surrounding Asmodean’s death that I am aware of on the Web. In other words, if you come in here shouting “It was Shaidar Haran, in the wine pantry, with the Shadar Logoth dagger!!!!” we’re all gonna know you didn’t read it, and we are all going to laugh at and/or be very annoyed with you. Let’s not do that. Let’s at the very least attempt to start everyone on the same difficulty level here.
So. Read it. Read it now. We’ll wait.
Back? Good. Thank you. So, who do I think killed Asmodean? Well, I’m afraid my answer is probably going to disappoint you, which is: Dunno.
You see, I don’t CARE who killed Asmodean.
Seriously. I never did. Oh, I was vaguely curious about it when I first read it, and vaguely annoyed that it was never explicated later, and then I was bemused and fascinated in a meta sort of way by the raging online controversy over the subject once I entered the fandom, but as far as having a burning desire to know who killed him? Nope, sorry, don’t really care.
Which was ironic once I took over the WOTFAQ, since I can say with pretty fair confidence that I spent more time updating and rewriting that ONE DAMN ARTICLE in the FAQ than I did just about any other section of the entire document (with the possible exception of the Military section, because Christ what was I thinking inventing that thing). This, possibly, has not sweetened my disposition regarding the subject, what with the hours and hours I spent winnowing through endless, repetitive, Möbius-like Asmodean-related theories and arguments and flamewars that ranged from the merely inane to the actually insane, in order to sift out the few granules of precious sense hidden in the dross. Let’s just say, the wheat-to-weevil ratio there was of famine-inducing badness, generally speaking, especially five to six years into the debate.
Anyway. The result of the work I did on the WOTFAQ, oddly enough, served to actually reinforce my lack of an opinion on who killed Asmodean. This is partially because the FAQ is deliberately constructed to be non-partisan on the debates where there is no definitive answer; it’s not possible to completely avoid bias, of course, but I did try to be as objective as possible, and that inevitably rubbed off on my own personal outlook on the mystery as well.
The other reason is that any theory starts to sound stupid if you look at it long enough, and I had initially come to the conclusion that there was actually no answer to be had. I was, in fact, fairly convinced for quite some time that Jordan didn’t actually know who had killed Asmodean at the time he wrote the scene, and that’s why none of the possible suspects ever seem to quite gel as the “right” one.
However, I’ve since rejected that theory, on the grounds that it is silly, and slightly smacking of bitterness to boot. Jordan may not have been correct in his assessment that the murderer is “obvious”, but in retrospect it’s absurd to believe that an author who is so noted for his attention to detail would murder a major character on a whim without even deciding beforehand who did it.
So, there is an answer. I just don’t know what it is. Or I just don’t care enough to really get behind a pony in this race, take your pick.
However, no one appears to like this answer, funnily enough. I’ve been cornered on the question several times over the years, most recently at JordanCon, and I usually try to avoid giving an answer, but just for shits and giggles I’ll give you my general feeling on the issue, which is about as close to an “answer” as you’re likely to get from me.
There are six characters who generally comprise the pool of Usual Suspects for Asmodean’s murder: Ishamael/Moridin, Lanfear, Graendal, Slayer, Moiraine, and Taim. You can read the cases for and against them in the WOTFAQ. (You did read that, right? RIGHT?)
Of these, I completely don’t believe either Moridin or Slayer did it. There’s no freakin’ way Slayer is “obviously” the killer, and if I were going to rewrite the Asmodean FAQ section (*wibble*), I would move him to the “loony but won’t go away” category, personally – I only put him in the “main” suspects category because of how het up everyone was about him after all the info we got on him in WH, but on reflection that was a flash in the pan, really. As for Moridin, it’s really stretching it in my opinion that we were supposed to magically intuit that Ishy was back from the dead after being dead for two books – especially since Jordan didn’t start resurrecting bad guys like it was going out of style until LOC. As of TFOH, I don’t think we even had any evidence that it was even possible, and certainly no reason to presuppose it before it even happened.
Taim as the killer is a cool notion but ultimately unlikely in my opinion; even with the confirmation that he is a Darkfriend in KOD, I still think he fails the “obviosity” criterion, and even if he was working for the Shadow all along, I tend to doubt he had so much clout that he could prance around offing Forsaken, even disgraced ones, without fear of reprisal – at least not before upping his credit by infiltrating Rand’s ranks, which of course he hadn’t done yet at that point. As for Moiraine, I severely dislike and reject the notion that she did it. (Frankly, I will be pissed if it turns out she’s the killer, because aside from how completely circumstantial the “evidence” in her favor is, I think it is utterly out of character for her anyway, and just generally a shitty thing to suppose she would do for any number of reasons.)
So that basically leaves Lanfear or Graendal. I personally think that of these two, Graendal makes more sense logistically (even without the fish thing to support her), but Lanfear makes more sense viscerally (even given the very large “trapped in another dimension” problem). Which makes them a wash as far as I’m concerned; neither is more likely than the other with the information that we currently have.
I’m told by fairly reliable sources that this mystery will actually be cleared up in one of the last three books of the series, which is cool, though a perverse evil part of me secretly wants the question to never be answered. Just because the howls of Internet fury would be hilarious. Ain’t I a stinker?
But actually I think the answer will be cleared up by default, since we are due Real Soon Now to find out for sure what happened to Moiraine – and, by extension I assume, Lanfear – in Finnland. Basically I expect that whatever happened there will either confirm that Lanfear used her wishes to off Asmodean, or make it clear that she was not allowed to do so, which will then leave Graendal as the only viable possibility (at least in my opinion).
So that, long-windedly, is what I think. Orange you glad you asked?
So, bye, Asmodean! I’m kind of sorry to see you go, really, but I’m pleased that if you had to die, you did us the courtesy of staying dead – at least the second time. So thanks for that.
And, bye, Fires of Heaven! Thanks for being a solid fun sort-of-middle to the series. Is it all downhill from here, as some people claim? Dunno; I will Recap And Find Out.
Five down, whoo! Join me Friday for the beginning of Lord of Chaos. I know, right? We’re actually making some headway here. Ciao!