Greetings, WOTers! Welcome back to the Wheel of Time Re-read!
Today’s post covers Chapter 54 through to the end of Lord of Chaos, in which... well. You know good and well what happens here. (“Well”, ha ha, geddit? Geddit? Ged- um. Ahem. Yes, I’ll stop that now. Yes, I know. Yes, I’m sorry.)
Previous entries are here. This and all prior posts contain spoilers for all currently published novels of the Wheel of Time series up to and including Knife of Dreams, so if you haven’t read, don’t read.
The Prologue of The Gathering Storm, “What the Storm Means,” is available for download here on Tor.com or at multiple online vendors. Chapter 1 is still available as well, and Chapter 2 is available in audio format. Please refrain from posting spoilers for either the Prologue or Chapters 1-2 in the posts for the Re-read, in order to protect those who have not yet read them, or do not intend to before the release of the entire book. Spoiler discussion is going on at the respective posts announcing the releases, linked above; please keep them there. Thanks.
Before we start, a by-now-traditional brief look at the cover artwork on the last post on the book, so you can learn that LOC’s cover is possibly my least favorite of all the American edition covers, beating out even Power-Walking Rand (ACOS) and The Little Woman Cooks On The Oregon Trail (TSR). Mostly because the scene on LOC’s cover seems to depict a Dumai’s Wells that took place in an alternate universe that had Draghkar at the battle, and Rand having time to send his clothes out for dry-cleaning, ‘cause that guy sure doesn’t look like he’s been beaten and stuffed in a chest for days on end. Also, the Aes Sedai looks like she got her hair done at a Facts of Life convention. You know, if they had those. (I really hope they don’t.)
Also also, a non-WOT-reading friend of mine once happened to see this cover, and announced, “That? Is patriarchy.” Which kind of made me laugh hysterically, all things considered.
So, yeah. Read on, and stay tuned at the end for An Announcement. DUN – maybe.
Chapter 54: The Sending
Perrin, Gaul, and Loial head through the city to the docks (Gaul is terribly scandalized by the revelers – not their nudity, but their public kissing), and Perrin thinks of how Faile had refused to kiss him goodbye, but had whispered something instead:
“If you fall,” she whispered, “I will take up your sword.”
He was still not sure whether she meant him to hear or not. Her scent had been such a jumble he could make nothing out.
He had been terrified she was going to insist on coming along, but when Rhuarc talked Berelain out of leading her Winged Guards with them (Perrin is confused by the father-daughter aspect of their scents), Faile left off her intention to come as well, to Perrin’s great relief. Perrin bribes a ferryman to scrounge up enough sweepers to ferry them across the river. The ferry workers laugh and joke at first, but their passengers’ grim mien soon silences them, and they reach the other side and meet up with two hundred Mayener Winged Guards, led by Havien Nurelle, and Dobraine with his five hundred armsmen of House Taborwin. Perrin notes that the Mayeners seem young and eager, while the Cairhienin look grim.
They had seen fighting. In Cairhien, they called it “seeing the wolf.”
That nearly made Perrin laugh. It was not time for the wolves yet.
They head out, and are soon joined by Rhuarc, Nandera, Sorilea, Amys, and a second Maiden who Perrin realizes after a moment is Sulin. Rhuarc tells him he has a little more than five thousand spears from various societies – all he could get without unduly raising suspicion – plus a thousand Maidens, which he had had to insist on to keep all the Maidens from coming, “carrying a torch to tell the world that Rand al’Thor is in danger”. Sulin and Nandera both flush, and start to retort at the same time, then glare at each other. Sulin looks away, and Nandera tells Rhuarc stiffly that the Maidens gave their pledge to follow him. Perrin doesn’t really get what’s going on there, but doesn’t really care, more concerned with the numbers.
Six thousand Aiel, five hundred of Dobraine’s armsmen, and two hundred Winged Guards. Against six Aes Sedai, their Warders and some five hundred guards apparently, that should be enough. Except. The Aes Sedai held Rand. If they put a knife to his throat, would anyone dare lift a hand?
Amys tells him they also have ninety-four Wise Ones, all of whom are strong channelers. But then she adds that Sorilea is leading them, and Perrin thinks if all of them are as weak channelers as Sorilea then even almost a hundred Wise Ones may be no match for six Aes Sedai, but does not propose to look a gift horse in the mouth. He tells them all that the Aes Sedai must be at least seventy miles ahead of them, and they will have to press hard; it doesn’t occur to him to question that he is the one in charge. They make thirty-five miles that day, and that night, Perrin lays down and seeks out the wolves. He asks them, in wolf parlance, about the Aes Sedai ahead of him, thinking that it was only by chance he had discovered the wolves can tell the difference between a channeler and a non-channeler. The wolves relay back to him the picture of the camp, and Perrin works out from their information that the Aes Sedai are sixty to seventy miles ahead. Then one of the wolves asks him why he wants to know.
Perrin hesitated before answering. He had dreaded this. He felt about the wolves as he did about Two Rivers people. They have caged Shadowkiller, he thought at last. That was what the wolves called Rand, but he had no idea whether they considered Rand important
The shock filling his mind was answer enough, but howls filled the night, near and far, howls filled with anger and fear. In the camp horses whinnied fearfully, stamping their hooves as they shied against the picket ropes. Men ran to calm them, and others to peer into the darkness as if expecting a huge pack to come after the mounts.
We come, Half Tail replied at last. Only that, and then others answered, packs Perrin had spoken to and packs that had listened silently to the two-legs who could speak as the wolves did. We come. No more.
The next day, the wolves stay out of sight, but Perrin can feel several hundred of them nearby and more on the way. They travel for four days, slowly gaining on the Tower party, in the meantime discussing what to do when they catch up. Both Dobraine and Rhuarc fatalistically favor just charging in, which Perrin doesn’t find very helpful. Loial tells him that by Tower law, a man must be taken to the Tower before he can be gentled, but points out that the embassy had spoken of “honoring” Rand, so surely they could not be planning that, and surely they are treating him well. Perrin thinks “a prisoner is a prisoner” no matter how they are treating him. Loial also points out that every story about Aes Sedai capturing men “of great power” insist that they gather thirteen sisters, and therefore expresses doubt that there are only six sisters in the party ahead of them; Perrin agrees with his logic, but it only makes his dilemma worse. He thinks that surely they would not gentle the Dragon Reborn, but then again he thinks that he neither understands nor trusts Aes Sedai, even the ones who had tried to show themselves as friends. Loial has meanwhile digressed into talking about Erith, and wants to know what it is like to be married; Perrin waxes rhapsodic about Faile for a while, omitting to mention their current troubles, but then Loial asks if all wives are so jealous as Faile.
“Jealousy?” Perrin said stoutly. “Faile is not jealous. Where did you get that idea? She is perfect.”
“Of course she is,” Loial said faintly, peering into his pipe bowl. “Do you have any more Two Rivers tabac? All I have after this is some sharp Cairhienin leaf.”
Perrin is also worried about the tension between the Cairhienin and the Aiel, and hopes the Mayeners will act as a bridge and/or buffer between them, but the main result is that Nurelle develops a bad case of hero-worship for Perrin after listening to Gaul’s tales about the Battle of Emond’s Field. Then there is the tension between the siswai’aman and the Maidens, which Perrin smells as jealousy and possessiveness, respectively, and doesn’t get at all, and none of the Aiel will explain it to him. After two days of jostling for command, Sulin and Nandera try to kill each other, or so Perrin assumes, and Rhuarc has to stop him from interfering. Sulin wins the fight, slamming Nandera’s head against the ground and knocking her out, but the next time he sees them, Sulin obeys Nandera, and Perrin cannot figure that out either. Sorilea and Amys are having a slightly different kind of showdown, which seems to end with Sorilea in charge, but with her respecting Amys considerably more than previously. On the seventh day the wolves tell Perrin that there is a large party to the west riding in the same direction as they, and Perrin recognizes the banners the wolves show him. He tells Rhuarc et al to keep on and heads west, telling them they may have friends joining them. He is soon caught up by a guard of fifty-odd, each from one part of his army, including Sulin.
“Friends,” Sulin murmured to herself, trotting at his stirrup. “Friends who appear suddenly, with no warning, and he suddenly just knows they are there.” Looking up at him, she spoke louder. “I would not like to see you trip over a pillow and fall on your nose again.”
Perrin shook his head, wondering what other cudgels he had given her while she masqueraded as a servant. Aiel were strange.
He is not surprised to come upon the Two Rivers men an hour later, but is surprised to see they have some nine women with them, and men he doesn’t recognize either. Dannil, Aram, and the women ride out to meet him, and Perrin sees that they are Aes Sedai, and include Verin and Alanna, and realizes Merana must have ignored Rand’s stricture about only sending six to Cairhien. Two of the Aes Sedai address him immediately, saying it is a surprise to meet him here, but Perrin ignores them and asks Dannil what he’s doing out here. Dannil explains that he was shanghaied by the Aes Sedai, who told him Alanna could find Rand and let him assume Perrin would be with him. Perrin frowns, wondering how Alanna could find Rand, and the two Aes Sedai introduce themselves as Bera and Kiruna, and ask why he is here when “young al’Thor” is several days north. Perrin considers, and tells them the truth, that Rand is being held prisoner by Aes Sedai from the Tower, and that he intends to rescue him. The Aes Sedai look calm, but Perrin smells their outrage and fear. They all start arguing at once, and Alanna weeps that she knew he was injured. Verin smells furious, and afraid.
Kiruna ran a dark, contemptuous gaze over Perrin’s party. “You mean to stop Aes Sedai with this, young man? Verin did not say you were a fool.”
“I have a few more than this back on the Tar Valon Road,” he said dryly.
She tells him haughtily that he may join his forces to theirs, but Perrin informs her that actually, he’s taking his Two Rivers men back with him, and the Aes Sedai are free to come along if they want. They discuss it, and agree, and Bera and Kiruna spend the trip back telling him how he shouldn’t do a thing without consulting them first, and Perrin begins to regret bringing them. The Mayeners and Cairhienin are overjoyed to see Aes Sedai joining their party, the Maidens and siswai’aman apprehensive, and the Wise Ones furious. They spend the next few days avoiding the Aes Sedai, especially Masuri, who seems determined to corner a Wise One. Alanna refuses to tell Perrin how she’s tracking Rand, Verin ignores him, and Bera and Kiruna assume they are in charge, which Nurelle and Dobraine bolster by taking their orders without hesitation. Perrin is shocked to find that the slim Aes Sedai who always hangs back is actually Merana, whom he pegs as the low wolf in the pack, smelling of resignation. Perrin wonders if he might rescue Rand from Coiren et al only to have to rescue him from Kiruna and Co. in turn. The Two Rivers men are thrilled to be reunited with Perrin; he makes them put the Manetheren banner away, but they keep out his own red wolfshead, and in response Dobraine and Nurelle break out Rand’s two banners, which thrills the Aes Sedai not at all.
On the tenth day, with the sun almost halfway to its peak, Perrin was feeling grim despite banners and Two Rivers men and Stepper under him. They should overtake the Aes Sedai wagons not long after noon, but he still did not know what to do after that. It was then that the sending came from the wolves. Come now. Many two-legs. Many, many, many! Come now!
The thing about Perrin that’s frustrating but realistic is that he is of course a natural leader, but any time he has time to start thinking about it he believes he isn’t one. So it’s always nice when, as here, circumstances don’t give him the luxury of second-guessing himself on that score. This is extra-super nice when it means he stands up to Aes Sedai; I was like “Oh my God, THANK YOU” here when he told Kiruna and Bera to step off. Even if it didn’t necessarily help all that much, at least someone did it.
And the wolves, yay! I missed the wolves. Whenever Perrin interacts with them I always love it, but this bit here has to be one of my favorite scenes with them. I remember I got a bit of a chill when I read “They have caged Shadowkiller”, and the wolves’ response. Awesome. If only all generaling could be so straightforward, eh?
Loial: Even with all my frustration with the Faile/Perrin thing, the exchange I quoted here with Perrin and Loial made me laugh. And how awesome is Loial, just quietly coming along and supporting his friend, and being about the only member of the party who isn’t giving Perrin a headache of some kind.
Which, of course, is mainly what this chapter is about, showing the tenuous and fractured nature of the forces of Light, and how much the tensions and suspicions sown throughout LOC has reduced their effectiveness. Of course, it’s not like the Lightside folks were ever all happily linking arms and singing kumbaya, metaphorically speaking, but there’s no doubt that the situation has become exponentially worse over the course of this novel. I think it can be argued that Perrin’s “being there” for Rand in Min’s viewing is as much for the fact that he manages to hold Rand’s allies together in his absence (well, sort of) as it is for the fact that he actually shows up to rescue Rand.
Chapter 55: Dumai’s Wells
Gawyn rides by three wells in a copse, and thinks that he would have liked to kill al’Thor, but that this was sickening. He had been shocked to learn the man was in the camp, and tries to convince himself that he is not violating his promise to Egwene by not helping al’Thor. He wants to help Min, though, and is debating how to do that when he sees a horse galloping toward them, and orders the wagons to halt. The rider is one of the Younglings, fatally wounded, and he gasps out that there are thousands of Aiel surrounding them before dying. Galina comes up and demands to know what he’s doing; he tells her about the Aiel, and she calls him a fool, saying no doubt they are Sevanna’s promised escort. Gawyn shouts at her, what if they are al’Thor’s Aiel, come to rescue him? Surprisingly, Galina’s anger fades, and she nods, saying perhaps they should be cautious.
Rand pants in his chest, head jammed between his knees, holding onto the Void as he burns from head to toe with welts. He can feel Alanna close by, but has almost decided that must be a hallucination, one of many he’s been having lately; and even if she was coming, he thinks, there was nothing six Aes Sedai could do – if they didn’t decide to throw in with Galina anyway. He goes back to fumbling at the soft points while Lews Therin moans about being in the dark. Then he groans as the chest is shifted, knowing what’s coming.
Which one would it be this time? Faces spun through his head. He had marked down every woman when she took her turn at him. They were a jumble now; remembering which came where or when seemed beyond him. But he knew that Galina and Erian and Katerine had beaten him most often, the only ones to do so more than once. Those faces glowed in his mind with a feral light. How often did they want to hear him scream?
Then he realizes no one is opening the box, and in a sudden panic begins heaving at the lid, weeping, screaming for someone to let him out, but no one comes, and he goes back to feeling at the six points, now laughing softly.
Perrin, Rhuarc, Dobraine, Kiruna, and Sorilea lie hidden, watching the nightmarish scene below: a huge mass of Shaido surrounding the wagons, and balls of fire and lightning flying from both sides, killing and burning. Impressed, Kiruna remarks there must be two or three hundred women channeling down there, and that Perrin has brought them to a “boiling cauldron”. Rhuarc adds grimly that there are at least forty thousand Shaido to boot.
“The Lord Dragon is down there?” Dobraine asked, looking across Rhuarc. Perrin nodded. “And you mean to go in there and bring him out?” Perrin nodded again, and Dobraine sighed. He smelled resigned, not afraid. “We will go in, Lord Aybara, but I do not believe we will come out.” This time Rhuarc nodded.
Kiruna points out that they do not have nearly enough channelers to counter all that, and Perrin tells her to leave then; he will not let Elaida have Rand. Kiruna smiles, making Perrin’s skin crawl, and answers she will not either. They slide back down the hill to rejoin their forces, and Perrin wishes they had a better plan than to basically charge in and try to get Rand out. The units disperse to their positions, and Perrin hears Rhuarc murmur a wish that he and Amys “see the sun rise together, shade of my heart”, though he does not look at her. Perrin, on foot, joins Loial and Aram as the columns begin moving forward, and the Shaido do not appear to notice the force moving up behind them at first. The columns reach four hundred paces, and then Dobraine shouts for the lances to charge; as he does, Perrin sends to the wolves: Come.
Ground covered with brown grass, seemingly empty, suddenly gave birth to a thousand wolves, lean brown plains wolves, and some of their darker, heavier forest cousins, running low to hurl themselves into the backs of the Shaido with snapping jaws just as the first long Two Rivers shafts rained out of the sky beyond them. A second flight already arched high. New lightnings fell with the arrows, new fires bloomed. Veiled Shaido turning to fight wolves had only moments to realize they were not the only threat before a solid spear of Aiel stabbed into them alongside a hammer of Cairhienin lancers.
Snatching his axe free, Perrin hacked down a Shaido in his way and leaped over the man as he fell. They had to reach Rand; everything rested on that. Beside him Loial’s great axe rose and fell and swung, carving a path. Aram seemed to dance with his sword, laughing as he cut down everyone in his way. There was no time to think of anyone else. Perrin worked his axe methodically; he was hewing wood, not flesh; he tried not to see the blood that spurted, even when crimson sprayed his face. He had to reach Rand. He was slashing a path through brambles.
The Shaido Wise Ones begin attacking Perrin’s forces with fire and lightning as well, and then he sees Kiruna and the rest marching right through the battle, carving a path with fire, and wonders furiously what they think they are doing here instead of staying back with the Wise Ones. He hears a hollow boom from somewhere ahead, and then suddenly a clump of fighters are sliced in half by a gateway opening, with men in black coats pouring out; Perrin sees that the Shaido who attack them are bursting into flames, or their heads are exploding like melons. Perrin dismisses them to concentrate on staying alive, as he and Loial and Aram are hemmed in by Shaido, and he thinks sadly that he won’t be able to apologize to Faile for not coming back to her.
Rand is still fumbling at his shield when suddenly he realizes that one of the soft points has become hard, followed by three more. He waits, trying to keep himself from “deranged giggling”, but the last two points stay soft. Lews Therin moans that the last two will feel it and call the others back, but Rand thinks he might never get another chance, and using what Lews Therin had taught him, slides between the gaps in one of the hard knots.
Rand could not have explained what he did next, though Lews Therin had explained how; explained between drifting off into his own mad fancies, between towering rages and wailing over his lost Ilyena, between gibbering that he deserved to die and shouting that he would not let them sever him. It was as if he flexed what he had extended through the knot, flexed it as hard as he could. The knot resisted. It trembled. And then it burst. There were only five. The barrier thinned.
He attacks the other hard knots, bursting two more; then a third soft point joins the other two, and Rand works frantically on the fourth knot, bursting it. Then he tries to seize saidin, and the weakened shield bends and stretches and then rips, and the Power fills Rand; he crushes the three points with Spirit, and then channels Air to burst the chest away from him with a boom.
They will pay, Lews Therin growled. I am the Lord of the Morning.
Rand struggles to make himself move, and painfully pushes himself to hands and knees to see that two of the Aes Sedai he had stilled were unconscious, while the third is kneeling on the ground, clutching her head and screaming. Rand is briefly sorry that none of them are Galina or Erian, then sees Min lying on the ground and crawls to her, only vaguely aware that there seems to be a battle going on nearby. Min is alive, and weeps for joy to see him alive as well. Rand realizes he can feel saidin being channeled everywhere, and sees Aiel fighting Warders. Min tells him to make a gateway and get them out of here, but Rand tells her he thinks some friends are here, and he can’t go yet. She comes with him, holding him up though he tries not to lean on her, as he goes to the edge of the copse where his chest had been hidden, and sees the Tower Aes Sedai at the rear of their fighters, channeling at the Shaido. He spots Erian, and shields her and knocks her out, ignoring Lews Therin’s disappointment that he had not stilled her. He finds Katerine and does the same to her. Lews Therin snarls that he wants Galina especially, but Rand realizes he’s wasting time finding particular Aes Sedai, and staggers along behind their line, taking out Aes Sedai one by one, with none of the others able to understand what is happening, and their lessened channeling allows the Aiel to break through, and Rand stares at the chaos in amazement.
Warders and green-coated soldiers fought in clumps against Aiel, and Aes Sedai surrounded themselves with rains of fire. But there were Aiel fighting Aiel as well; men with the scarlet siswai’aman headband and Maidens with red strips tied to their arms fighting Aiel without. And Cairhienin lancers in their bell-shaped helmets and Mayeners in red breastplates were suddenly among the wagons too, striking at Aiel as well as Warders. Had he finally gone mad? He was conscious of Min, pressed against his back and trembling. She was real. What he was seeing must be real.
Rand kills a group of non-red-wearing Aiel when they threaten him, and then sees Gawyn with twenty greencoats. They stare at each other for a moment, then Gawyn tells Min he can take her out of here. Min answers that she’s staying, and tells Gawyn that Elayne loves Rand; Rand sees Gawyn’s knuckles go white, and he tells Rand flatly that one day he will see him die, before wheeling and riding off. A man in a black coat darts up and knocks half Gawyn’s men off their horses with saidin before Rand clubs him with Air. The man snarls at Rand and seems about to attack him.
In an instant, it seemed, Taim was there, blue-and-gold Dragons twined around the sleeves of his black coat, staring down at the fellow. His collar bore neither pin. “You would not strike at the Dragon Reborn, Gedwyn,” Taim said, at once soft and steely, and the hard-faced man scrambled to his feet, saluting with fist to heart.
Taim remarks that he hopes under the circumstances Rand will not hold it against him that he ignored the order about confronting Aes Sedai. He offers Healing, but Rand refuses silently. He ignores Lews Therin’s renewed rantings at the sight of Taim, muting the voice to “the buzzing of a fly”, a trick he had learned while locked in the chest, but thinks even so that if the man ever touched him with the Power he would kill him. Taim shrugs, and comments that the campsite is secure. A dome of Air covers the camp, blocking attempts to channel at them, with both the Shaido and the bulk of the other opposing force outside; inside, Rhuarc’s Aiel are guarding the Shaido captives (now gai’shain), Cairhienin and Mayeners are guarding the Warders and Youngling prisoners, and a dozen Asha’man are guarding the Aes Sedai, conscious and unconscious. Most of the Aes Sedai look sick and frightened, and some of them vomit when the sisters Rand stilled are added to the group. Then he sees there are a group of Aes Sedai not being guarded, and Alanna is among them; he notes that there are nine, not six, and glares at them with rage. Perrin, Loial, and a Tinker with a sword, all bloody and battered, join him, as well as Dobraine, Nandera, and Sulin (who he is glad to see in cadin’sor again). Perrin gasps his relief to see Rand alive, and swiftly entreats him to let the dome up so they can go back for Rhuarc and the rest of their forces still out there. Rand orders the dome to be dispersed, but Taim argues against that, pointing out the several hundred Shaido channelers out there; he suggests instead that they wait until they know the ground here and then gate out, opining that “whoever dies out there, dies for the Dragon Reborn”. This infuriates the Maidens, and Perrin pleads with Rand not to let their allies die like that, especially the Two Rivers men, offering to go and get them to retreat himself; Loial quickly offers to accompany him. Taim thinks this is fine, but Rand cuts him off sharply, thinking that he would not abandon them, but could not let it appear he cared about them either.
“Sevanna wants my head, Taim. Apparently she thought she could take it today.” The emotionless quality the Void gave to his voice was appropriate. It did seem to worry Min, though; she was stroking his back as though to calm him. “I mean to let her know her mistake. I told you to make weapons, Taim. Show me just how deadly they are. Disperse the Shaido. Break them.”
Taim walks off, and Perrin tells Rand he’s seen what the Asha’man do, and is clearly disgusted by it. Rand demands to know what else Perrin would have him do, and Perrin sighs and answers he doesn’t know, but he doesn’t have to like it. Taim forms the Asha’man up and has them raise the dome, and then gives the order: “Asha’man, kill!”
The front rank of the Shaido exploded. There was no other way to put it. Cadin’sor-clad shapes burst apart in sprays of blood and flesh. Flows of saidin reached through that thick mist, darting from figure to figure in the blink of an eye, and the next row of Shaido died, then the next, and the next, as though they were running into an enormous meat grinder. Staring at the slaughter, Rand swallowed. Perrin bent over to empty his stomach, and Rand understood fully. Another rank died. Nandera put a hand over her eyes, and Sulin turned her back. The bloody ruins of human beings began to make a wall.
The Shaido begin to break and run, and Taim has the Asha’man channel a “rolling ring of Earth and Fire”, and fountains of dirt and flame kill every Shaido in two hundred paces, until Rand finally screams for them to stop. He stares out at the carnage, relieved and sickened at the same time, and sees Rhuarc and the Wise Ones and the rest approaching, all seeming stunned. Rand tells the Asha’man flatly that they have done well, and ignores the cheers from them to turn to Alanna and the other Aes Sedai with her. Two he does not recognize introduce themselves as Bera and Kiruna, and Bera tells him they came to rescue him, though apparently he did not need it. Rand tells them that their place is with the Aes Sedai prisoners, noting for the first time that Galina was not with that group. Kiruna replies proudly that he forgets who they are.
“I forget nothing, Aes Sedai,” Rand said coldly. “I said six could come, but I count nine. I said you would be on an equal footing with the Tower emissaries, and for bringing nine, you will be. They are on their knees, Aes Sedai. Kneel!”
Coldly serene faces stared back at him. He felt Asha’man readying shields of Spirit. Defiance grew on Kiruna’s face, on Bera’s, on others. Two dozen black-coated men made a ring around Rand and the Aes Sedai.
Taim appeared as close to a smile as Rand had ever seen him. “Kneel and swear to the Lord Dragon,” he said softly, “or you will be knelt.”
As stories do, the tale spread, across Cairhien and north and south, by merchant train and peddler and simple traveler gossiping at an inn. As stories do, the tale changed with every telling. The Aiel had turned on the Dragon Reborn and killed him, at Dumai’s Wells or elsewhere. No, the Aes Sedai had saved Rand al’Thor. It was Aes Sedai who had killed him—no, gentled him—no, carried him to Tar Valon where he languished in a dungeon beneath the White Tower. Or else where the Amyrlin Seat herself knelt to him. Unusually for stories, it was something very close to truth that was most often believed.
On a day of fire and blood, a tattered banner waved above Dumai’s Wells, bearing the ancient symbol of Aes Sedai.
On a day of fire and blood and the One Power, as prophecy had suggested, the unstained tower, broken, bent knee to the forgotten sign.
The first nine Aes Sedai swore fealty to the Dragon Reborn, and the world was changed forever.
Dumai’s Wells is one of those WOT things that always leaves me severely divided against myself. On the one hand, the sheer awesomeness of the scene in general cannot be denied. The battle is beautifully choreographed, all the good beats struck (this is a statement which will either make sense to you or not, sorry), and for tension, drama, and page-turnability is probably one of the best endings of any currently published WOT novel. Certainly it is one of the most exciting. I also think that the visceral satisfaction so many readers (including myself) derive from this chapter is how much of a payoff it is, giving us what seems like a decisive, Gordian-knot-cutting victory after hundreds of pages of snarling and tangling and, well, not-winning. The impulse to cry “YES!” and do a little mental cabbage-patching upon reading it is more than understandable.
On the other hand, I cannot help but be a little disturbed at the vehemence with which fans so often celebrate the ultimate result of the battle – which is, of course, the infamous “kneel, or you will be knelt” fashion in which nine Aes Sedai are induced to swear fealty to Rand.
Perhaps surprisingly to many familiar with my views, it is not the possible misogynistic overtones of the act which I find most upsetting – at least not as it applies to the author. I can’t pretend I know Jordan’s mind on this, of course, but I personally never got the sense that a “men beating down women” inference was where he was going with this; in my view, it was about a shift in the balance of power, and it just so happened that the power players on the side it shifted away from were Aes Sedai – ergo, female – merely by default. This is perhaps a case of wishful whitewashing on my part, but you have to draw the line somewhere. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
Whatever Jordan’s intent, however, it does not excuse a large portion of the fan response, from whom I (and many others) most certainly did perceive a rather nasty vibe of “Yay, those uppity bitches got what’s coming to them!”. I found this not just disturbing but genuinely upsetting, as it was an indication to me of just how much our progress in gender equality is, in many ways, still only skin deep. Let’s just say, I got the distinct sense that deny it though they might (and there were those who didn’t even bother to deny it), on some visceral and perhaps unconscious level some fans rejoiced in seeing powerful female characters get brought down a peg or two merely because they were female, and that deeply saddens me.
I fully expect, of course, to receive n amount of vehement refutations of this in the comments; in response, I can only say that even if every “Whoo, bitches got smacked down!” response out there had motivations as pure as the driven snow, that’s not what I and others perceived, and that is the key point here. Certainly the oft-repeated use of “bitches” did not help. If you truly do not intend to imply misogynistic overtones, you may want to consider how much your choice of words may degrade the credibility of your claim.
And keep in mind, I certainly don’t claim that everyone who liked the ending of LOC is sexist, because, I remind you, I liked the ending, too. That being said, I do invite everyone to give some examination as to the reasons why you felt the way you did about this scene. (Again, an interesting thought exercise is to imagine the scene with all the genders swapped, and see how (or if) it changes your reaction.)
So there’s that. Quite aside from the gender issue, however, it’s also disturbing because I believe that in a way, to rejoice in the way LOC ended is to almost miss the point entirely. By which I mean, I don’t think Dumai’s Wells was really meant to be a victory at all.
Oh sure, it was a victory in the sense that the Good Guys won the actual fight, but given the way they won it, through what can only be described as a wholesale massacre, and the state of affairs Our Heroes are left with as a result – distrust, dissension, massive casualties, forcible coercion of allies, a political situation in shambles, and a savior left more than halfway unhinged – Dumai’s Wells is better described as a Pyrrhic victory than anything else. As Pyrrhus himself would say, “Another such victory over the [Shadow] and we are undone.” And the insupportable cost is not measured so much in the physical losses, but in the degree to which the moral high ground is lost. Our Good Guys, in the end, didn’t act much like Good Guys at all, and that will (and does) take a serious toll. Chaos, indeed.
The “kneel or be knelt” thing, specifically, is indicative of how messed-up this “victory” is. First of all, the fact that it’s Taim who says the actual line should be warning enough right there, but there is also the fact that it’s just plain – well, illegal. Okay, “illegal” is not exactly the word I’m looking for there, but I’ve never understood why the Aes Sedai consider the oath to be binding at all, because it should absolutely not be, in my mind. Maybe it’s different in Randland, but I thought it was pretty commonly understood that oaths given under duress are not true oaths, and it is therefore no crime to break such vows. If an oath is not freely given, in my opinion, it is worse than invalid - it is in fact wrong to keep such promises.
Well, upon reflection I suppose the First Oath prevents Aes Sedai getting out of even wrongfully given oaths once given, so that’s why they had to accept it, but that does not change the inherent wrongness of making them swear it in the first place. In fact, it makes it worse.
I think the later books danced around this by saying it was ta’veren twisting that induced the Aes Sedai to give their fealty to Rand, but, uh, “kneel or be knelt” is pretty unambiguously coercion, if you ask me. And whatever your feelings about Aes Sedai or any of the players involved, the fact remains that forcing anyone to swear loyalty to you is just a shitty thing to do across the board, and (as we see) seriously hurts Rand’s credibility as a force for good. And I think it is right to do so!
This is why Dumai’s Wells kind of pulls me in opposite directions: the first blush of uncritical love of the yummy battle goodness (and it was very yummy) somewhat fades once the fridge logic sets in. However, I’m pretty sure this is exactly what Jordan intended (as far as the dubiousness of calling this a “victory” goes, anyway), so on that score I think we must say, either way: Bravo, sir. Bravo.
So. As that concludes the incendiary portion of our commentary, some finishing random notes:
How exactly did Taim know where to come, again? I’m sure this got explained somewhere (at least I hope it did) but I’m confused at the moment.
I swear, Rand must have been the sanest human being on the planet before this all started, because between the taint and the Lews Therin and the torture and the pressure and the blah blah blahinfinitestressescakes, I can only figure that he must have had an absolute warehouse-ful of sanity stored up to draw upon, to not already be a full-blown, screaming-meemie-having, padded-room-needing psychotic. The box alone would have been enough for plenty of people. But I guess that’s why they pay him the crappy bucks!
Speaking of Lews Therin (since I got flak for not bringing him up earlier, thbbt), a lot of people have said that the fact that he and Rand actually have a (somewhat) coherent dialogue going here conclusively proves to them that Lews Therin is real. But see, this is why I didn’t bring him up before, because it will no doubt exasperate a number of you that I still think there’s no qualitative difference between saying it’s actually Lews Therin Telamon in there talking to Rand, and saying that Rand is talking to an alternate personality constructed with the real Lews Therin’s (real) memories. The fact that they finally speak directly to each other proves nothing; didn’t you guys see Fight Club?
Okay, so I guess now concludes the incendiary portion of the commentary. And, uh, also concludes the commentary, except for the bit on the epilogue.
Epilogue: The Answer
Falion receives yet another notice that Elayne and Nynaeve had somehow slipped out of the Tarasin Palace without being seen, and thinks that while she had become convinced that there was no cache of angreal in Ebou Dar whatever Moghedien thought, those two’s presence here suggested otherwise. And in any case, even if there wasn’t a cache, Falion could surely gain standing with Moghedien for capturing and delivering Elayne and Nynaeve to her.
Herid Fel is in his study when the gholam squirms under his door. Idrien faints when she comes by later and sees that he has been torn limb from limb.
The rider looks back at Ebou Dar, thinking it ripe for conquest, and considers that perhaps that fellow’s comment had been an omen, that the Return would come soon, and the Daughter of the Nine Moons with it.
Moghedien lies in her tiny tent, grinding her teeth. An absurdly beautiful woman ducks in, and tells Moghedien her name is Aran’gar, calling Moghedien by her real name. Moghedien almost panics, but then realizes the woman is channeling a ball of light, yet Moghedien can’t sense saidar being used. She asks again who the woman is, and Aran’gar tells her that in a moment she will remove Moghedien’s “pretty necklace”, for she is summoned to Shayol Ghul this night.
Moghedien licked her lips. Summoned to Shayol Ghul. That could mean eternity in the Pit of Doom, or immortality ruling the world, or anything in between. Little chance it meant being named Nae’blis, not if the Great Lord knew enough of how she had spent the past months to send someone to free her. Yet it was a summons she could not refuse. And it meant an end to the a’dam at last.
She agrees, and Aran’gar touches the collar and flinches slightly in pain, which Moghedien thinks should only happen to a man who could channel. Then it is off, and Aran’gar tells her to go.
Egwene checks “Marigan’s” tent, and finds it empty; she had felt the flash of pain which meant a man who could channel had touched the link, and felt the necklace come off. She wonders if it could possibly have been Logain, and tells Chesa she thinks Marigan ran away.
Demandred knelt in the Pit of Doom, and for once he did not care that Shaidar Haran watched his trembling with that eyeless, impassive gaze. “Have I not done well, Great Lord?” The Great Lord’s laughter filled Demandred’s head.
Yeah, um... actually I don’t have much to say about any of this, since it all sets up for things which will happen later and which I will therefore comment on, you know, later. Besides, I’ve already written a frickin’ novel’s worth of commentary here, so I think we’ll call it good, except to say, the Dark One agrees with me about Dumai’s Wells being a Bad Thing for the Good Guys, evidently, so nyah!
Oh, and also except to say, bye, Herid! That really sucks. Who said being a librarian is a low-risk occupation? Hopefully Min will figure out what you were blathering about sometime before it becomes relevant!
And thus ends LOC! Which may not be the longest novel in WOT by word count, but I can say has certainly felt a lot longer than any one I’ve done previously. So, whew.
Somewhat in light of that, I have An Announcement to make:
With the ending of LOC, we are kind of sort of right smack in the middle of the series. Given that, plus the extremely imminent (and, I presume, distracting) release of The Gathering Storm, plus a small amount of personal upheaval I am currently dealing with, I have decided that now would be a good time for me to take a badly-needed hiatus from the Re-read. Ergo, this is the last Re-read post that will be going up for a while.
Don’t worry, I won’t be gone long. The way I see it, this just means you guys’ll have some time to get all your new-book discussion jollies out (hopefully here on Tor.com!) without any distractions, and I’ll be back with ACOS right as soon as it all begins to die down a bit. I think it’s kind of perfect timing, myself.
I don’t have an exact timeline in mind, but the hiatus will be for at least a couple of weeks, and possibly as long as a month. I’ll keep you guys posted on when the triumphal return shall take place.
Oh, and don’t think you’re getting rid of me for TGS-related fun, either! I won’t be putting up Re-read posts, but I will be participating here on Tor.com with the discussion of the new book. Someone’s got to keep all you scalawags in line!
Actually, speaking of which, you may, you know, kind of want to check the site pretty soon for something else from me. Nothing too exciting, of course, but you know. In case you’re bored or something. On... oh, say, this Friday. Which is, by the way, four days before the following Tuesday. So swing by. You might like it. You know. Maybe. *whistles*
And that’s all, folks! Please stay classy in the comments, and know that I deeply appreciate all y’all’s fabulous reading and commenting on the blog, and look forward to getting back to it. Happy T Minus Eight!