Hello! This is a Wheel of Time Re-read! No, really, I swear!
Today’s entry covers Chapters 1 and 2 of The Gathering Storm, in which life IS pain, Highness! Anyone who tells you different is… er, probably not either Rand or Egwene, at the moment. Jeez.
Previous re-read entries are here. The Wheel of Time Master Index is here, which has links to news, reviews, interviews, and all manner of information about the Wheel of Time in general, including the newest release, Towers of Midnight.
This re-read post contains spoilers for all currently published Wheel of Time novels, up to and including Book 13, Towers of Midnight. If you haven’t read, read at your own risk.
And now, the post!
Before we start, a small pointer to something y’all may find relevant to your interests: an interview with Brandon Sanderson in Fantasy Magazine, written by some chick. Just FYI and all.
Chapter 1: Tears from Steel
Wheel, Ages, memories, legend, myth, wind. The wind blows around the White Tower to Tar Valon, where the beauty of the architecture contrasts with the filth in the streets, and workmen labor to dismantle the harbor to remove the half-cuendillar chain blocking it. It blows to where the rebel Aes Sedai army is camped, fifty thousand strong, where Aes Sedai pretend not to worry that their leader is captive in the Tower. It blows past Dragonmount to the plains, where evidence of spring has yet to show, and into Arad Doman, to a manor house in the east, where Rand al’Thor stands, Min beside him, watching as the wind blows his banners one way and the trees another, impossibly.
[…] he could feel the wrongness in the way those pines moved, even if he did have trouble distinguishing the individual needles. His eyesight hadn’t been the same since the attack on that day he’d lost his hand. It was as if... as if he looked through water at something distorted. It was getting better, slowly.
He feels Min’s worry for him, as well as Aviendha’s, who is moving toward him, traveling with Rhuarc. He thinks Elayne feels relieved, and wonders if it means the succession is going well. He tries not to think about what Semirhage had said about him at her capture, tries to convince himself that she was lying; Lews Therin whispers that she has done horrific things, including torturing an entire city, but she rarely lies. Rand tries to talk to Lews Therin, demanding to know what he did to try to seal the Dark One’s prison and what went wrong, but Lews Therin only sobs in reply. Rand is determined to believe that they are still two separate people no matter what Semirhage had said.
His secret was finally out. But Min had seen a viewing of Rand and another man melded together. Didn’t that mean that he and Lews Therin were two separate people, two individuals forced into one body?
It makes no difference that his voice is real, Semirhage had said. In fact, it makes his situation worse....
Rand distracts himself by thinking about his plans. The Aelfinn had told him “The north and the east must be as one. The west and the south must be as one. The two must be as one”, and he believes that means he must make peace with the Seanchan, but they have so far ignored his request for a meeting. Rand thinks that he will make them recognize his intentions when he stops the fighting in Arad Doman. He watches Bashere move among his troops below, and wonders whether Bashere will ever deliver on his promise of the support of his queen, and what the Borderlanders are doing in Andor. He thinks there is a good chance that Graendal is somewhere in Arad Doman, based on what he — or rather, Lews Therin — knows about her. His musings are interrupted by Cadsuane, who enters with Nynaeve and Alivia.
He relaxed his hand on his sword, though he did not release it. He fingered the cloth-tied hilt. The weapon was long, slightly curved, and the lacquered scabbard was painted with a long, sinuous dragon of red and gold. It looked as if it had been designed specifically for Rand—and yet it was centuries old, unearthed only recently. How odd, that they should find this now, he thought, and make a gift of it to me, completely unaware of what they were holding....
He had taken to wearing the sword immediately. It felt right beneath his fingers. He had told no one, not even Min, that he had recognized the weapon. And not, oddly, from Lews Therin’s memories—but Rand’s own.
He asks what Cadsuane has learned from Semirhage. Cadsuane is noncommittal, but Nynaeve snaps that the woman is “a stone”; after days of questioning, all they’ve gotten from her is how backward they are and how she is going to kill them all. Cadsuane and Nynaeve both advocate using more severe methods on their captive, but Rand adamantly refuses.
“I said no!” Rand said. “You will question her, but you will not hurt her!” Not a woman. I will keep to this one shred of light inside me. I’ve caused the deaths and sorrows of too many women already.
Cadsuane suggests that maybe they should just turn her over to the Tower, then, and Rand asks which one, suggesting that maybe Egwene will let Semirhage go in favor of gentling him instead. Nynaeve protests this, but Rand replies that he is just another pawn to Egwene now.
Yes, Lews Therin said. We need to stay away from all of them. They refused to help us, you know. Refused! Said my plan was too reckless. That left me with only the Hundred Companions, no women to form a circle. Traitors! This is their fault. But. . . but I’m the one who killed Ilyena. Why?
Rand demands to know what Lews Therin did, but the dead man only sobs, and Rand yells aloud for him to speak, and then realizes what he’s done, and thinks that he is losing control. Min is more worried than ever; Alivia, Nynaeve and Cadsuane don’t overtly react, but Rand finds he can’t even laugh it off. Rand thinks that he can’t keep this up much longer; he is being used up.
I need to finish my work here and get to Shayol Ghul.
Otherwise, there won’t be anything left of me for the Dark One to kill.
That wasn’t a thought to cause laughter; it was one to cause despair. But Rand did not weep, for tears could not come from steel.
For the moment, Lews Therin’s cries seemed enough for both of them.
I had a really weird moment of disconnect when I started re-reading this chapter, because for some reason my brain took a momentary smoke break or something and I thought I was going to be reading about Rand coming down from Dragonmount all Jesusified. And then we went to Arad Doman and Rand really, really wasn’t. Jesusified, I mean. And I was all, oh yeah, there’s a whole book to get through before we get to that, duh, Leigh.
The disconnect, though, wasn’t that I had a brain fart there, because God knows that happens all the damn time, but because when I realized we weren’t getting Jesus Rand my reaction was — disappointment.
Which made me blink a little, because I am on record (as y’all know) as being kind of upset at the emergence of Zen Master Rand in ToM. But going back now to this Rand, this poor guy who is wounded in body and soul, and who is angry, and desperate, and more than half-crazy, and so, so tired, and knowing how much more worse it’s going to get before it gets better… Well. I may have to reassess that initial stance.
I don’t know if it is Brandon’s influence on the characterization that is making me feel so much more sorry for Rand than I did in KOD, even though we’re picking up with him almost immediately after the events in the last book, or if it’s just that this is where we are with him story-arc wise and there you go. This is the book where Rand hits absolute rock bottom. And as I’ve said before, that nadir is necessary, plot-wise, character-wise, whatever-wise.
Doesn’t mean I’m not kind of dreading it, a little. What can I say? I’m mushy sometimes; I don’t like to see characters I like getting hurt.
Which means I’m kind of S.O.L., for this book. Grumble.
Rand’s new sword: I confess this was a detail I more or less completely missed on my first read-through of TGS, but then considering I read the thing at Ludicrous Speed in order to get my first non-spoiler review in, maybe that’s not too surprising. There was a lot of chatter about it in the comments to my spoiler review, though, and basically the consensus was that the sword was Justice, Artur Hawkwing’s sword, which Rand (and not Lews Therin) presumably saw waaaaay back in TGH, when the Heroes of the Horn came to Falme to kick Seanchan ass. So, nice catch there, commenters.
I think it’s pretty clear that the sword is indeed Justice, from this and other hints later on, but I must say I’m still a little puzzled as to why Hawkwing would have dragons painted on his sword when he kind of loathed channelers (hence that whole “trying to conquer Tar Valon” thing). But hey, just because the sword is Hawkwing’s doesn’t mean the scabbard is. Or maybe the dragons were added later. Or they magically appeared Because The Pattern Said So. Who knows. (Or there’s an explanation later and I just forgot, which is probably the most plausible option of the lot, really.)
(Oh, and who gave it to him, anyway? Random people? Did we ever find that out?)
The other thing worth noting in this chapter is Rand’s adamant refusal to allow Semirhage to be tortured. As usual, I am extremely ambivalent toward this whole thing of Rand’s. On the one hand, in general I am not a fan of torture, mostly because, well, torture is bad. (I was on the debate team!) So I like that Rand doesn’t want to use it.
However, that is kind of completely undermined by the fact that Rand is refusing to torture Semirhage not because torture is bad, but because Semirhage is a woman. Meaning, if she were a man, presumably Rand would have been all for it — or at least not against it. Which moves the whole issue out of the realm of moral or ethical considerations regarding human rights, and into the wonderful world of sexism and double standards. Which, as y’all might have noticed, is not exactly my favorite vacation spot.
On the third hand, I do recognize what’s going on here. I’ve talked about it before, how Rand’s refusal to hurt/kill women can be viewed not as chivalry gone mad per se, but as an at least semi-arbitrary line in the moral sand; Rand’s own personally chosen Moral Event Horizon, the one line he will not cross. (Note: abandon all free time, ye who click there.) Rand himself sums it up best in this chapter: I will keep to this one shred of light inside me.
So, okay. Yes. But. Dammit, it’s still sexist. And worse, it’s still stupid. As we — and Rand — will soon find out.
Chapter 2: The Nature of Pain
Egwene straightens from a punishment, satisfied that she only had two tears in her eyes this time, though she still has not been able to master embracing the pain as the Aiel do. Silviana asks when she will give in and submit to proper order; Egwene asks whether there has been “proper order” in the rest of the Tower, and Silviana marks her up for another punishment. Egwene tells her she has been ordered to attend Elaida for dinner that night, and Silviana orders her to return after she eats for another punishment for refusing to address the Amyrlin Seat properly; Egwene realizes that Silviana had ensured Egwene would not have to skip a meal by doing so. Katerine and Barasine meet her outside with more forkroot, and she asks them if they are pleased with the pass the Tower has come to.
“Are you proud of this? The Tower spent centuries without an Amyrlin being raised from the Red. Now, when you finally have a chance, your chosen leader has done this to the Tower. Women who won’t meet the eyes of those they do not know familiarly, sisters who travel in clusters. The Ajahs behave as if they are at war with one another!”
Egwene points out that the Red, of all the Ajahs, should be Elaida’s fiercest critics, for her legacy will be theirs. Katerine is contemptuous, but Barasine looks worried, and Egwene notices that Silviana’s door had been cracked open enough to overhear. Egwene thinks that she is winning her war with Elaida, but that it is not bringing her as much satisfaction as she had expected.
Who could take joy in seeing the Aes Sedai unraveling like aged canvas? Who could feel glad that Tar Valon, the grandest of all great cities, was piled with refuse? As much as Egwene might despise Elaida, she could not exult at seeing an Amyrlin Seat lead with such incompetence.
Egwene heads for Elaida’s apartments, but she is forced to detour when the hallway suddenly ends in a stone wall with a tile mural depicting the Amyrlin Caraighan Maconar that used to be in the library, only now Caraighan’s face is a mask of blood, surrounded by hanged corpses.
The Dark One stirred, and the very Pattern itself was shaking.
Egwene hurries on, debating furiously with herself over how to behave before Elaida; she longs to berate and humiliate her, but knows confrontation will only end with Egwene in a cell. She determines that the best thing to do is be silent, and goes in. Inside her ridiculously opulent chambers, Elaida is dining with a haunted-looking Gray sister Egwene doesn’t know; Egwene is infuriated to see that Elaida’s stole is only striped with six colors, but stays quiet, and manages to bow her head to Elaida. Elaida laughs, taking the gesture for submission, and orders her to get on with serving. Egwene is shocked when Elaida calls the Gray sister “Meidani”, realizing that she is one of the ferrets sent by Sheriam et al to the Tower; Meidani is clearly terrified, and Elaida taunts her in a way which makes it clear that she knows Meidani is a spy. Egwene serves soup, resisting the urge to slap Elaida. Elaida asks Meidani what news she hears, and when Meidani tries to evade the question Elaida casually threatens to remove her shawl, and then says she was only teasing.
She joked! Joked about how she had stolen the shawl from a woman, humiliating her to such an extent that she fled the Tower. Light! What had happened to Elaida? Egwene had met this woman before, and Elaida had struck her as stern, but not tyrannical. Power changed people.
Meidani brings up the Seanchan, and Elaida dismisses them as a threat, making a pointed remark Egwene’s way about people believing anything they hear. Elaida thinks the real problem is the lack of obedience toward the Amyrlin Seat shown by Aes Sedai. She opines that there should be an addition to the Three Oaths, an oath of obedience. Egwene is enraged by this appalling idea, and to stop herself from screaming at Elaida, she dumps the soup on the floor. Elaida is furious and makes Meidani help Egwene clean it up, and Egwene uses the distraction to covertly order Meidani to summon Egwene for lessons so they can talk. Meidani tries to refuse, but Egwene asks if she wants to swear an oath to obey Elaida for eternity, and Meidani cringes.
Egwene laid a hand on her shoulder. “Elaida can be unseated, Meidani. The Tower will be reunited. I will see it happen, but we must keep courage. Send for me.”
Meidani looked up, studying Egwene. “How... how do you do it? They say you are punished three and four times a day, that you need Healing between so that they can beat you further. How can you take it?”
“I take it because I must,” Egwene said, lowering her hand. “Just as we all do what we must.”
Elaida orders Egwene to go to Silviana to ask to be strapped “as she’s never strapped a woman before.” Egwene leaves, and acknowledges to herself that she lost control of her emotions, and reminds herself that anger is counterproductive. She eats before going to Silviana, and reflects that the session with Elaida has changed something in her. She realizes that she doesn’t need to undermine Elaida, as Elaida is doing it herself, and would fall eventually even if Egwene did nothing. Egwene thinks that her duty is not to help Elaida fall, but to do what she can to hold the Tower together in the meantime, to be a source of strength to the sisters. She goes to Silviana’s study (and finds her reading a history of the rise of various Amyrlins, which Egwene thinks is interesting), and tells her everything about the evening, including Elaida’s talk of adding to the Oaths, which makes Silviana look thoughtful.
“Well,” the woman said, standing up and fetching her lash, “the Amyrlin has spoken.”
“Yes, I have,” Egwene said, standing up and positioning herself on the table, skirts and shift up for the beating.
The punishment begins, and Egwene suddenly finds the whole thing ridiculous. She remembers her pain and sorrow for the sisters of the Tower and their fear and distrust for one another, and finds the pain of her physical beating insignificant in comparison.
And so she began to laugh.
It wasn’t a forced laugh. It wasn’t a defiant laugh. It was the laughter of disbelief. Of incredulity. How could they think that beating her would solve anything? It was ludicrous!
Silviana stops, and asks if she is all right, and Egwene assures her that she hasn’t cracked under the strain, and explains her thoughts to Silviana. She realizes her laughter at the pain comes not from strength, but from understanding. Silviana tells her she cannot refuse to punish Egwene, and Egwene says she knows. She asks Silviana to remind her why Shemerin’s demotion from Aes Sedai worked, and Silviana replies that it was because Shemerin accepted it.
“I will not make the same mistake, Silviana. Elaida can say whatever she wants. But that doesn’t change who I am, or who any of us are. Even if she tries to change the Three Oaths, there will be those who resist, who hold to what is correct. And so, when you beat me, you beat the Amyrlin Seat. And that should be amusing enough to make us both laugh.”
The punishment continued, and Egwene embraced the pain, took it into herself, and judged it insignificant, impatient for the punishment to cease.
She had a lot of work to do.
I am very not big on pain, personally. Like many people, I fear it, probably because I have been lucky enough in my life to have very rarely been in real, physical pain, and therefore not only am I largely unfamiliar with it, I have no tolerance for it either. At least I think I don’t. Like I said, I’m really not anxious to find out one way or the other.
I am continually amazed, therefore, at the fortitude of people who are in frequent or constant pain, and yet manage to get on with their lives and not let it rule them. There’s someone I know who has had major and (thus far) uncorrectable spinal problems since she was eighteen years old, which basically means she’s been in moderate to severe pain more or less constantly for her entire adult life. And yet, she goes right on doing all the things she’s doing and having a career and a family and being a cheerful wonderful person anyway.
That might not be quite what Jordan meant by the Aiel tradition of “embracing the pain,” but my friend is what I think of anyway when I read that phrase. I guess it’s just a matter of deciding something else is more important than the fact that you’re hurting. I might have scoffed at Egwene’s revelation here otherwise, but having seen something similar to it in action in real life, I can only conclude that it works — if you’re a brave enough person to make it work.
So, you know, all kudos to those who face their pain and make it their bitch, fictional or otherwise. My hat is off to you.
The Caraighan mural: Speaking of things that scare me, THIS.
Everyone has their own thing, when it comes to what scares them. I mean, just about anyone will at least jump a little when someone does a Jack-in-the-box at them, but beyond obvious scares, there are certain things that just freak certain people out and not others. Like clowns, or things like that.
I remember I went to see The Ring with a friend of mine in the theater, and I spent half an hour afterward trying to explain to her why the part where the girl crawled out of the TV had scared the living crap out of me. She didn’t get it at all; she thought the whole movie had been positively boring. I was eventually reduced to repeating: “But the girl comes out of the TV! For the love of God, Montresor, the girl comes out of the TV!”
But I think I get it better now, which is that my Thing (well, one of them) when it comes to fear triggers is probably best summed up as image distortion. This is not a technical term or anything, I just made it up, but it’s the best term I’ve come up with to define this creep factor I have, which is (weirdly specifically) linked to distorted or altered images. Like video, or photographs. Or murals, if I were generally around murals.
Which is my clumsy segue into explaining that the above was a sadly over-extended way of conveying how I probably would have freaked the bloody fuck out if I had run into the altered mural that Egwene describes here.
Because, hell to the no. It’s not even so much that it was altered to show blood and corpses and whatnot, it’s that it was altered at all. I find that more disturbing, even, than the fact that the whole damn wall was moved just as mysteriously — just like it was the fact that the girl in The Ring was a staticky video image of a ghost that scared me, more than the fact that she was, you know, a malevolent murderous ghost.
Yeah, I know. Makes no sense. I told you, it’s a thing.
And… right. So that was… a tangent.
Other than all that, this chapter mainly makes me rub my hands together in gleeful anticipation of all the Egwene-related Awesome that is shortly coming our way. I remember I was deeply impressed at her maturity in realizing her task was not to topple Elaida but to save the Tower, not just because it shows Egwene is learning to rise above her own personal grudges (however justified), but because it is a rather subtle distinction that a less perceptive character may not have been able to make. Fortunately, our Egwene may be many things, but “stupid” was never one of them.
So you go, Ooh Ooh Girl. I look forward to our future TGS interaction!
And I look forward to ending this post, because me typy long time now. Have a lovely week, y’all, and I’ll be back next Tuesday with more! Cheerio!