Oh happy day, it’s a Wheel of Time Re-read!
Today’s entry covers Chapters 14 through 16 of The Gathering Storm, in which a box is opened (gah), some connections are made (finally), and something besides dinner gets Served (YAY).
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!
Chapter 14: A Box Opens
Sorilea inspects a temporarily blind and deaf Semirhage thoughtfully, and Cadsuane reflects that she had not expected to find an equal among the Aiel, especially when Sorilea could barely channel, but that she still did not trust the woman completely. Cadsuane explains that the weaves currently on the Forsaken keep her sleep-deprived, though she doubts exhaustion will break her. Bair suggests that they could talk to the Car’a’carn about turning her over to them for “delicate” questioning, but Cadsuane reminds them of how al’Thor is about hurting women, and Bair sighs.
“Yes,” she said. “You are right, I suspect. Rand al’Thor is twice as stubborn as any clan chief I’ve known. And twice as arrogant too. To presume that women cannot bear pain as well as men!”
Cadsuane doesn’t think pain will break Semirhage anyway. Sorilea asks to speak with Semirhage, and Cadsuane obliges. As soon as she sees the Wise Ones, Semirhage asks them how it feels to know they broke their oaths so thoroughly; Cadsuane is fascinated to hear some of al’Thor’s stories about the Aiel verified, but Sorilea only comments to Bair that she hadn’t expected her to be so human, so easy to understand.
Semirhage’s eyes narrowed for just a moment at that comment. Odd. That was a stronger reaction than virtually any of the punishments had produced.
Semirhage regains her composure quickly, though, and asks how much pain it would take before an Aiel would kill a blacksmith and eat him. Sorilea stiffens, and replaces her gags before opining that they should slit her throat and be done with it; keeping her alive is too dangerous. Cadsuane agrees about the danger, but counters that even if al’Thor would allow it, the Forsaken’s potential knowledge is too valuable. Sorilea then asks to see “the item”; reluctantly, Cadsuane takes her and Bair to her room. On the way, she puzzles over Semirhage’s momentary lapse of control at Sorilea’s comment and what caused it, and also reflects that al’Thor seems “almost eager” for the Last Battle, or like he wants to get it over with.
The problem was, al’Thor wasn’t ready for the Last Battle. Cadsuane could feel it in the way he spoke, the way he acted. The way he regarded the world with that dark, nearly dazed expression. If the man he was now faced the Dark One to decide the fate of the world, Cadsuane feared for all people.
In her room, Cadsuane disarms the formidable traps she has on the box on her dresser, and opens it to reveal a foot-tall figurine of a man holding a sphere, and a black metallic collar with matching bracelets — the male a’dam. Sorilea states that the a’dam is evil, and Cadsuane tells her according to Nynaeve there is only one, and it was supposed to have been thrown into the ocean, but she didn’t see it done. The Aiel are very disturbed at the notion that the Seanchan might have more.
“And the people who have these are the same people with whom al’Thor wishes to make peace?” Sorilea shook her head. “Creation of these abominations alone should warrant a blood feud. I heard that there were others like it. What of those?”
“Stored elsewhere,” Cadsuane said, shutting the lid. “Along with the female a’dam we took. Some acquaintances of mine—Aes Sedai who have retired from the world—are testing them trying to discover their weakness.” They also had Callandor.
Cadsuane tells them she is determined to test this one on a man, as that is the best way to learn if it has any weaknesses, but al’Thor will not allow it. She thinks of how the first thing she had done upon acquiring the female version of it was to put it on and practice trying to escape from it, though only with women she could trust to remove it after, of course. Al’Thor, though, only mutters about “that bloody box” whenever the subject is broached. Sorilea comments that they must do something about him, as he has grown worse since she last saw him. Cadusane agrees, and they sit down to discuss the matter.
PUT THAT BOX AWAY THROW IT IN A VOLCANO KILL IT WITH FIRE DAMMIT
Argh. As usual, no one ever listens to me.
Well, one thing you can’t deny about Cadsuane, the woman’s got nerves of steel. Voluntarily putting yourself in an a’dam, even with people you trust to get you out of it? That takes some big ovaries, y’all.
She also is spot-on here in encapsulating the problem with Rand. In retrospect it’s obvious, but I think her thought here about Rand being in no way ready for the Last Battle kind of crystallized it for me.
The rub is, of course, that I agree with Cads about the problem but have a rather large problem with her approach to a solution. As does Rand, it turns out. Well, we’ll get to that fiasco soon enough.
And, other than to say “damn straight” re: Bair’s complaint about Rand not having enough respect for women to treat them like grownups, I don’t have a lot else to say about this chapter, as it is mostly all setup for what comes next.
Although, there is this exchange, after Cads shows Sorilea and Bair the male a’dam:
Sorilea shook her head. “Creation of these abominations alone should warrant a blood feud. I heard that there were others like it. What of those?”
“Stored elsewhere,” Cadsuane said, shutting the lid. “Along with the female a’dam we took.”
I… cannot figure out what they are referring to here. They seem to be saying that they have more male a’dam, but that makes no sense, considering it comes on the heels of a discussion where Cadsuane said Nynaeve said there was only one of the things, and she didn’t know if there were any more. Why would she be unsure if her mysterious pals had more of them? And if there are more, where the hell did she get them? (And who are these friends of hers, anyway?)
I don’t know, I think I missed something here. Maybe it gets explained later and I forgot, or is this a gaffe?
Chapter 15: A Place to Begin
Rand wakes on the floor of a hallway that he vaguely recognizes, and realizes he must be asleep, but he thinks that this place seems different from the World of Dreams. He chooses a door at random, and walks into a room with open arches on the far side, showing roiling clouds that seem to be composed of screaming faces. There is a fireplace on the left that he remembers from when he first came here a long time ago, but now the stones of the hearth are warped and blackened. A young blue-eyed man who Rand has seen in visions and met in Shadar Logoth sits in a chair before the hearth, and Rand takes the other chair.
Once, Rand had known this man only as Ba’alzamon—a name for the Dark One—and had foolishly thought that in killing him, he had defeated the Shadow for good.
”I watched you die,“ Rand said. ”I stabbed you through the chest with Callandor. Isha—“
”That is not my name,“ the man interrupted, still watching the flames. ”I am known as Moridin, now.“
Rand insists that this just a dream; Moridin chuckles and comments that many dreams are more real than the waking world. Rand repeats that he is dead, and Moridin replies that he saw Rand die, too, when he created an entire mountain to mark his grave. Moridin says he once offered to bring his lost love back from the dead, and asks if Rand thinks the Great Lord cannot do the same for one who serves him; death is no barrier to his master except for those who have known balefire. Rand notes the odd specks that float in Moridin’s eyes.
“The Great Lord can grant you sanity, you know,” Moridin said.
“Your last gift of sanity brought me no comfort,” Rand said, surprising himself with the words. That had been Lews Therin’s memory, not his own. Yet Lews Therin was gone from his mind. Oddly, Rand felt more stable—somehow—here in this place where all else appeared fluid. The pieces of himself fit together better. Not perfectly, of course, but better than they had in recent memory.
Moridin asks why he has come here, which surprises Rand, as he had assumed Moridin had brought him. Moridin comments that he is tired, and “is that you, or is it me?,” and that he could kill Semirhage for what she did. Rand is puzzled, and Moridin tells him to go, it is not time for them to fight, and the Great Lord’s victory is assured. Rand replies that he will defeat him, and Moridin laughs.
“Perhaps you will,” he said. “But do you think that matters? Consider it. The Wheel turns, time and time again. Over and over the Ages turn, and men fight the Great Lord. But someday, he will win, and when he does, the Wheel will stop.
Herid Fel was dead now, murdered, torn apart by Shadowspawn. He’d discovered something in these books, something he’d intended to tell Rand. Something about the Last Battle and the seals on the Dark One’s prison. Fel had been killed just before he could pass on the information. Perhaps it was coincidence; perhaps the books had nothing to do with his death. But perhaps they did. Min was determined to find the answers. For Rand, and for Herid himself.
Min feels inadequate to the task of being a scholar, but thinks no one else is there to do the job but her, and if she can solve this puzzle, she could achieve something not just for Rand but for the world. She is content till then to be dismissed as Rand’s mistress. Rand wakes and goes to the window, and says that “he” was gone during the dream, but now he’s back. Min asks if he means Lews Therin, and urges him to talk to her about it; she insists he must trust her enough to hear it. Finally, Rand acquiesces, and confesses that he hears Lews Therin, and that sometimes the voice even seizes saidin away from him. Rand says that Semirhage claims it is insanity, but Rand insists that Lews Therin knows things about history and the One Power that no one else could know.
“You had a viewing of me that showed two people merging into one. That means that Lews Therin and I are distinct! Two people, Min. He’s real.”
She walked over and sat next to him. “Rand, he’s you. Or you’re him. Spun out into the Pattern again. Those memories and things you can do, they’re remnants from who you were before.”
“No,” Rand said. “Min, he’s insane and I’m not. Besides, he failed. I won’t. I won’t do it, Min. I won’t hurt those I love, as he did. And when I defeat the Dark One, I won’t leave him able to return a short time later and terrorize us again.”
Rand says he is afraid to use the One Power with Lews Therin there, and Min says that at least it won’t grow any worse now that saidin has been cleansed. Then Rand tells her Ishamael is alive, though he goes by “Moridin” now, and now he knows that all the Forsaken he killed may be back except the ones he killed with balefire. Min tries to point out what Cadsuane said about balefire, but Rand snarls that he doesn’t care, and he will decide how he fights. Rand says he intends to destroy the Dark One, and for that, he needs Lews Therin’s voice. Min tells him that she thinks he needs to destroy the seals on the Dark One’s prison.
“I’m sure of it,” she said. “I’ve been reading Herid’s books all this time, and I believe that’s what he meant by ‘clearing away the rubble.’ In order to rebuild the Dark One’s prison, you will first need to open it. Clear away the patch made on the Bore.”
To her surprise, Rand agrees that that sounds right, but points out that there is no way to know what will happen if he does it. Min tells him she has faith in him, and sees viewings around him, including “three women before a pyre.” Rand says that he could break the seals with his hands, but he doesn’t know what to do after that. Min promises she will keep looking for the answer.
Aviendha thinks that she will go “mad as a wetlander” if these punishments keep up. She finishes her current one, and is about to return to her tent when Amys appears and observes that sometimes we are so concerned with what we have done that we do not think of what we haven’t done. Aviendha does not know how to respond, but then she notices arrivals at the Travelling grounds, and she and Amys go to meet Flinn, Bashere and a small guard of Saldaeans and Aiel. Amys stops one of the Maidens, Corana, to ask for news. Corana tells them the Seanchan have agreed to another meeting with the Car’a’carn, but opines that he is simpering and pandering to them when he should be declaring blood feud. Amys asks Aviendha for her opinion, and Aviendha replies that as painful as it is to sue for peace with the Seanchan, they have a larger enemy to consider: Sightblinder is more important than any feud between human nations. Corana adds that the Seanchan had Aiel women leashed in their camp, and Aviendha hisses in anger, but still maintains her position.
Amys nodded, looking back at Corana. “Do not think that we will ignore this insult, Corana. Vengeance will come. Once this war is done, the Seanchan will feel the storm of our arrows and the tips of our spears. But not until after. Go tell the two clan chiefs what you have told me.”
Corana leaves, and Amys comments that this will give rise to unrest among the clans, who will demand that Rand abandon his attempt at truce with the Seanchan. Aviendha asks if they will stay when he refuses, and Amys replies that of course they will. Then she comments that perhaps it is time to stop “coddling” Aviendha, and she will think up better punishments for her tomorrow. Aviendha is astounded, and heads for her tent with a sigh.
Verrrrry interestink, that chat with Moridin, wasn’t it.
While it certainly didn’t clear up everything, it definitely put to rest any lingering doubts that Rand and Moridin have some kind of metaphysical mirroring-type bond thing going on. We still don’t know yet if it truly extends to the point that if one of them dies, so will the other, but I would not be at all surprised to find out that is the case. Which, as you may imagine, presents some problems.
I kind of laughed at Moridin when he told Rand he was stupid for thinking he could kill the Dark One, mostly because I agree: that is stupid. Not to get all red-tinged Tim Curry on your ass, but what is Light without the Dark? Maybe I’m wrong, but I have an issue with supposing you can actually kill an anthropomorphic representation of Ultimate Evil. Bottle him up, sure; kill him, no.
(It occurs to me that this is a kind of hilariously geeky quibble to make, but anyone who’s shocked at my geekiness at this point needs to have corks put on their forks, poor things.)
Of course, I also think Moridin’s emo hopeless gloom n’ doom woe we have no chance of winning anyway oh well evil now chain of logic to be pretty stupid, too, so I guess they’re even on that score.
The Min section of this chapter, I don’t have a lot to say about, as it really didn’t tell us anything that we as readers didn’t already know; it (and Rand’s realization re: Moridin that some of the Forsaken could be back from the dead) was more about lining up what the characters, and in particular Rand, knew. Which is fine, needed to be done, though I’m a tad appalled that Rand is only figuring out now that the Forsaken have a habit of not staying dead; I just don’t have a lot to say about the seals deal that I haven’t already said before.
The only thing really worth mentioning is Min’s viewing of “three women before a pyre,” which obviously is another version of Nicola’s vision of “three on the boat,” which is a reference to King Arthur’s funereal trip to Avalon with the three queens. Pyre’s just a different kind of burial. Of course, let’s hope when Rand “dies” they don’t actually burn his body, as that could present some logistical difficulties three days later, ahem.
As for Aviendha’s section, again, it’s obvious in retrospect but I totally didn’t notice the first time around how clearly the Aiel were being set against the Seanchan as a lead-up to Aviendha’s trip to Rhuidean in ToM. Nicely done.
Also, Avi, figure it out already, I’m done with this. Sheesh.
Chapter 16: In the White Tower
Egwene is cracking nuts for Ferane (Sitter, White) and two other White sisters (Miyasi and Tesan) in Ferane’s chambers. After ignoring her for an hour, Ferane asks Egwene what she would have done about the Dragon Reborn in the Amyrlin’s place. Egwene answers that first she would have sent sisters to his home village, not to intimidate them, but to learn about what kind of man he was, what his temperament was. Tesan points out that Egwene already does know him. Egwene hesitates, and answers that she knows him to be rational yet bullheaded, but most importantly a good man at heart, and so she would send him sisters to offer him guidance, or spies if he rejected them. Ferane observes that it sounds as if Egwene would leave him free to sow chaos “as he sees fit.”
“Rand al’Thor is like a river,” Egwene said. “Calm and placid when not agitated, but a furious and deadly current when squeezed too tightly. What Elaida did to him was the equivalent of trying to force the Manetherendrelle through a canyon only two feet wide. Waiting to discover a man’s temperament is not foolish, nor is it a sign of weakness. Acting without information is lunacy, and the White Tower deserved the tempest it riled up.”
Ferane asks how she would have handled it then, and Egwene seriously considers the problem, knowing that Rand had changed from the boy she’d known. She answers that Rand sees himself as an emperor now, and will react poorly to being pushed or pressured, and so she would send a delegation to honor him: three Aes Sedai, a Gray, a Green and a Blue. She observes that Elaida’s delegation failed because it was sent by a Red, and wonders at the logic of raising a Red to Amyrlin during the days of the Dragon Reborn. She asks, since when does the White Tower kidnap and torture heads of state instead of subtly guiding them to do their wishes? She goes on, though, that Rand is not their most urgent problem; the division in the Tower must be attended to first. Ferane says that Egwene’s own defiance exacerbates that problem, but Egwene rejects that reasoning, averring that it is Elaida’s leadership (or lack thereof) which has brought them to this pass, and reminds them that the White (i.e. Alviarin) played no small part in letting it happen. She urges them to begin reconciling with the other Ajahs by accepting Suana’s (Sitter, Yellow) invitation to dine together. The Whites are startled but thoughtful, and Ferane indicates she will consider Egwene’s proposal, calling her by name instead of “child.”
Egwene stood up, and then—very carefully—nodded her head to Ferane. Though Tesan and Miyasi gave no strong reactions, both pairs of eyes widened slightly. By now, it was well known in the Tower that Egwene never curtsied. And, shockingly, Ferane bowed her head, just a degree, returning the gesture.
“Should you decide to choose the White, Egwene al’Vere,” the woman said, “know that you will find a welcome here. Your logic this day was remarkable for one so young.”
Egwene thanks her, but reminds them that the Amyrlin represents all Ajahs, and leaves. She is very pleased until she runs into Katerine, who gives her her forkroot dose, and then gleefully informs her that Elaida has decided that from now on Egwene shall have no lessons, and will do nothing but manual labor until she agrees to curtsy to her betters. Egwene is greatly dismayed, for this means her access to sisters will be entirely cut off, but gathers herself and acquiesces without argument, to Katerine’s disgruntlement. Egwene briefly considers giving in on the curtsying just to get access back, but then realizes it will prove to Elaida that she could be broken, and that this new punishment must not change her behavior any more than the beatings had. She goes to the kitchens, and after three hours of back-breaking labor she is startled when Laras fetches her and leads her to a back pantry and shows her a bolthole that leads to the garbage runs. Laras tells her she can get Egwene out of Tar Valon that very night; Egwene asks why, and Laras replies that she won’t be party to breaking a girl’s spirit. Egwene considers the offer, but refuses. Laras asks why.
“Because,” Egwene said, glancing back at the fireplace. “Someone has to fight her.”
“You can’t fight like this,” Laras said.
“Each day is a battle,” Egwene said. “Each day I refuse to bend means something. Even if Elaida and her Reds are the only ones who know it, that’s something. A small something, but more than I could do from the outside.”
They return to the kitchens to find Katerine there, who informs Egwene that the Amyrlin has demanded Egwene’s attendance at dinner, and suggests Egwene take the chance to prove her humility. Egwene goes and cleans herself as best she can while considering what tack to take this time with Elaida, and decides that she will be silent again, as she had before. In the dining chamber, Egwene is surprised to discover that there are five Sitters at the dinner with Elaida: Yukiri (Gray), Doesine (Yellow), Rubinde (Green), Shevan (Brown), and Ferane (White); Egwene supposes there are no Red Sitters because they are all out of the Tower at the moment. She realizes that all her work could be undone if these women see her being subservient to Elaida. Egwene wonders for a moment if this dinner is an attempt to heal the rifts between the Ajahs, and that she had misjudged Elaida, but then Elaida immediately begins insulting Shevan and then the other Sitters in turn, and Egwene divines that the purpose of the dinner was merely for Elaida to be able to lord it over the other sisters. She fights down her anger with difficulty. Eventually Shevan brings up the Seanchan, and mentions that Egwene has extensive information on them; Elaida laughs and declares Egwene’s “information” to be lies fed to her by al’Thor, who is working with the invaders. She demands that Egwene admit this.
The penance she would take for not speaking would be better than suffering Elaida’s rage at contradicting her. Silence was the path to victory.
And yet, as Egwene glanced down the long mahogany table, set with bright white Sea Folk porcelain and flickering red candles, she saw five pairs of eyes studying her. She could see their questions. Egwene had spoken boldly to them when alone, but would she hold to her assertions now, faced by the most powerful woman in the world? A woman who held Egwene’s life in her hands?
Was Egwene the Amyrlin? Or was she just a girl who liked to pretend?
Egwene replies that the Seanchan are not working for Rand, and are a severe danger to the White Tower; she is a Dreamer, she says, and has Dreamed that the Seanchan will attack the White Tower. Elaida laughs and threatens penance for her exaggerations, and Egwene answers that even if she doesn’t believe her Dream, Elaida must acknowledge that the Seanchan are a threat to women who channel. Elaida declares her foolish, and demands she kneel and beg forgiveness immediately or be locked in a cell. She embraces the Source, and Egwene asks if she has so little authority that she must force Egwene to kneel with the Power, and if she intends to do the same to everyone else in the Tower as well. She asks if the others know about Elaida’s idea about making everyone swear a fourth Oath to obey the Amyrlin; Elaida says it was only idle talk.
“There is often truth in speculation,” Egwene said. “You locked the Dragon Reborn himself in a box; you just threatened to do the same to me, in front of all of these witnesses. People call him a tyrant, but you are the one destroying our laws and ruling by fear.”
Elaida snaps that she does not need to defend herself against a mere novice. Egwene asks what she intended to do with Rand al’Thor once she captured him, and Elaida answers that she would have kept him secure in the Tower until it was time for the Last Battle, to prevent him causing chaos. In answer, Egwene quotes the Karaethon Cycle (“As the plow breaks the earth shall he break the lives of men, and all that was shall be consumed in the fire of his eyes. The trumpets of war shall sound at his footsteps, the ravens feed at his voice, and he shall wear a crown of swords”) and asks how he was supposed to fulfill any of that if he’d been locked in the Tower. Elaida tries to change the subject to the rebels, and Egwene accuses her of fomenting discord by refusing to treat with them, and by alienating the Ajahs in the Tower.
“Coward,” Egwene said.
Elaida’s eyes flared wide. “How dare you!”
“I dare the truth, Elaida,” Egwene said quietly. “You are a coward and a tyrant. I’d name you Darkfriend as well, but I suspect that the Dark One would perhaps be embarrassed to associate with you.”
Elaida screeched, weaving in a flash of Power, slamming Egwene back against the wall, toppling the pitcher of wine from her hands.
Elaida screams that Egwene is the Darkfriend, and begins beating her with switches of Air that draw blood. Horrified, the Sitters yell at Elaida that this is against Tower law, but Elaida shrieks back that she is the law. Then she and the other sisters see to their shock that Egwene is still standing calmly under the onslaught.
“I wish I weren’t needed here, Elaida,” Egwene said softly. “I wish that the Tower had a grand Amyrlin in you. I wish I could step down and accept your rule. I wish you deserved it. I would willingly accept execution, if it would mean leaving a competent Amyrlin. The White Tower is more important than I am. Can you say the same?”
Elaida bellows that she will beat Egwene every day until she is satisfied, and only then execute her. She orders that Egwene be thrown into the deepest cell in the Tower, and have it broadcast in the city that she is a Darkfriend. Meanwhile Egwene is growing light-headed from blood loss, but she fears for the Tower, not her own life.
It had come to a head, as she’d feared that it would. She had cast her lot.
[…] As she leaned back against the wall, thoughts fading, she was overcome with sorrow.
Her battle from within the Tower was at an end, one way or another.
When I first read TGS I had an amazing amount of ambivalence toward the climactic scene of this chapter, which I rather thought would resolve itself once I did a slower, more considered readthrough. That… has not turned out to be the case.
On the one hand, Egwene’s confrontation with Elaida was completely, totally awesome. It was just pages of Egwene being fearless and badass and eloquent and the kind of leader everyone would want a leader to be. Not to mention it was ages overdue for someone to tell that moron Elaida just how big of a moron she is. So the visceral satisfaction there cannot be overestimated.
On the other, as much as I enjoyed it, I had a huge amount of trouble believing that Elaida would have ever let that conversation go on as long as it did before shutting it down. It bugged me on first reading, and it bugs me now.
And, I am aware there are all kinds of ways to rationalize and/or explain why she didn’t: the at least temporarily inhibiting presence of the Sitters, the shock of Egwene’s blatant defiance, Elaida’s own megalomania convincing her that she couldn’t possibly lose an argument to a mere novice, etc.
And I’m not necessarily being dismissive of these rationales either; they all work, they are all legit. I don’t, in fact, feel that I am being particularly reasonable in having a problem with this. But in spite of all that, well… I still have a problem with it.
I dunno, I guess I just really expected Elaida to snap the second Egwene failed to call her “Mother” and go to town on her immediately. I think this might be because I had concluded before the dinner even started that all Elaida even wanted was a bare excuse to whale on Egwene and throw her in the dungeon and/or kill her, so what was she waiting for?
I suppose, though, that it might be argued that Elaida was deluded enough that she really thought Egwene was going to buckle under, and was continuing to try for that until Egwene goaded her into completely losing her shit. It might also be argued that while she’s always been a twat, she never was actually evil (as in Evil Evil™), and certainly doesn’t consider herself so in her own mind, and so she could have been clinging to some bare vestige of moral integrity by holding off as long as she did.
I don’t know if I buy it, particularly the latter, but you could definitely argue it.
But, that issue aside, yay Egwene rockalicious you go girl. The turning point of your Plot Arc of Awesome, we have reached it. Kickass.
And that’s the story for now, morning glories! Have a fantabulous Thanksgiving if that be your national inclination, and a fantabulous random Thursday in November iff’n it ain’t, and see you next week!