Hi, WOTers! Welcome back to the Wheel of Time Re-read! Wasn’t that Madonna concert this Sunday awesome? It was awesome. (Though the tight-panted backup dancers seemed unnecessarily angry at each other, quel dommage!)
…Right, and today’s entry covers Chapters 32 and 33 of The Gathering Storm, in which I muse upon philosophical underpinning-type things, and possibly mangle the entire field of study beyond repair. But I had good intentions, so it doesn’t count!
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 32: Rivers of Shadow
Nynaeve stands on the wall surrounding Bandar Eban, sensing the metaphorical storm still to come, and reflects on how she misses the Two Rivers, and yet knows there is no longer a place for her there. Merise, Corele, and Cadusane are also on the wall, resolutely ignoring Nynaeve while watching for the appearance of the ghosts they’d been told about outside the city walls. Soon the ghosts appear, moving at a slow, mournful pace.
Several figures in the group—which was now about two hundred strong—were carrying a large object. Some kind of palanquin? Oh... no. It was a coffin. Was this a funeral procession from long ago, then? What had happened to these people, and why had they been drawn back to the world of the living?
Rumors in the city said the procession had first appeared the night after Rand arrived in Bandar Eban.
Merise doesn’t see what’s to be concerned about with more ghosts, considering the other much more fatal incidents occurring in the city of people being eaten by insects from the inside out or spontaneously combusting. Corele thinks they should be moving on, and Merise denounces Rand al’Thor as a fool to dally here. Nynaeve points out that his dealings with the Seanchan are hardly irrelevant, but Merise and Corele ignore her, continuing to badmouth Rand. Cadsuane, however, nods to Nynaeve curtly before walking off; Nynaeve frowns and thinks surely that couldn’t have been a sign of actual respect from her. Nynaeve heads back through the city, worrying at the problem of Rand and how to reach him.
Once, she’d thought him as gentle as Lan. His devotion to protecting women had been almost laughable in its innocence. That Rand was gone. Nynaeve saw again the moment when he had exiled Cadsuane. She’d believed that he would kill Cadsuane if he saw her face again, and thinking of the moment still gave her shivers. Surely it had been her imagination, but the room had seemed to darken distinctly at that moment, as if a cloud had passed over the sun.
She hears a child coughing among the refugees, and detours to track it down and Heal the ailment; she is angered that the child’s parents had been too intimidated or superstitious to bring him to the Aes Sedai for Healing, and tells them so. She goes back to the problem of Rand, and concludes that bullying him is obviously not going to work. She wonders what will, and then remembers that there was one person who had managed to work with Rand without bullying him: Moiraine. She thinks with contempt that Moiraine had “all but fawned” over Rand, but has to admit she had been successful.
Perhaps Rand had listened to Moiraine because her subservience had flattered him, or maybe he had simply been tired of people pushing him around. Rand did have many people trying to control him. They must frustrate him, and they made Nynaeve’s own job a lot more difficult, since she was the one that he actually needed to listen to.
Did he, perhaps, see her simply as another of those irrelevant manipulators? She wouldn’t put it past him. She needed to show him that they were working for the same goals.
She gets an idea, and hurries back to the mansion, where she commandeers three of the Saldaean soldiers on guard and takes them to the kitchens, where she demands to see the dosun (housekeeper) of the place, Loral. Loral arrives soon after, looking terrified, and Nynaeve reassures her she is not in trouble, but she needs Loral to take her to where Milisair’s people were holding the messenger from Alsalam. Loral reluctantly complies, and leads Nynaeve and the Saldaeans and the workers who had been in the room to a chandler’s shop in an unsavory district of town. They break in, and Nynaeve captures and binds the three jailers inside, leaving the actual chandler’s apprentice under the watch of one of the Saldaeans. She intimidates the two assistants into telling her where the dungeon entrance is hidden. In the dungeon, she is shocked to find Lady Chadmar there, in terrible condition.
Nynaeve inhaled sharply at seeing how the woman was being treated. How could Rand allow this? The woman herself had done this very thing to others, but that didn’t make it right for him to stoop to her level.
She questions the head jailer, Jorgin, about the messenger’s death. Jorgin tells her there was no apparent cause for the man’s demise; he hadn’t been starved or questioned harshly enough for either to have killed him, and Jorgin swears that he did not arrange for it himself. He also says the man clearly knew something about Alsalam’s location, but would not reveal it; he’s never seen a man resist like that one did.
“I don’t know how he did it, Lady. Burn me, but I don’t! It’s like some... force had ahold of his tongue. It was like he couldn’t talk. Even if he’d wanted to!”
Nynaeve reluctantly decides Jorgin is telling the truth, and is about to give up and leave when she notices Milisair is deathly pale, and weaves a Delving to see if she is sick. Instead, she discovers that Milisair has been poisoned, and leaps to open her cell and Heal her. Then she demands to know who feeds the prisoners, and Jorgin tells her it is the apprentice, Kerb. Nynaeve dashes up to the ground floor to find that the boy has fled, but to her relief, the workers from the mansion she’d left outside had caught him before he could get away.
This is, I believe, our first Nynaeve POV in TGS, and it was… fine, I guess. It’s a lot of expositional philosophical musing from Nynaeve and then some plot movement, but it’s all basically a set up for the expositional philosophical musings and plot movement in the next chapter, so I find I really don’t have all that much to say about it here.
Though it is nice to see Nynaeve independently coming to the conclusion that bullying will not work with Rand. I guess she really is growing up!
Also, I have no idea what the title of the chapter is supposed to be referring to. Shadow, yes, got it, plenty of Shadow to go around, but “rivers”?
Actually, I found the little random bits of this chapter to be the most interesting parts. Like the ghostly funeral procession Nynaeve sees from the wall, for instance. Because, okay: this may be wildly off-track and I may be falling victim to the notorious fannish tendency to over-interpret things here, but I have to say the first thing that jumped to my mind when I read this was that one infuriatingly obscure prophecy from ACOS:
A man lay dying in a narrow bed, and it was important that he not die, yet outside a funeral pyre was being built, and voices raised songs of joy and sadness.
Unless I seriously forgot something (admittedly, this is certainly a possibility) there has been nothing yet in the books that even comes close to fulfilling this one. And also admittedly, this prophecy is about a deathbed scene and not an actual funeral procession, but it seems logical to assume that the one will follow the other, so….
…So, I dunno. I’m grasping at straws, probably. Or maybe the ghost funeral gets explained later and I just forgot. But regardless, I thought of the connection, and so I share it with you. Because you’re just that lucky.
Anyway. One other random curiosity I noted in this chapter is how pretty much everyone in it addresses Nynaeve as “Lady.” Which struck me as rather odd, since it seems to me that it’s actually an insult.
As Nynaeve herself observes in this chapter, the only people who outrank Aes Sedai are ruling monarchs, and even then only technically, so to call her “Lady” is to ascribe to her a rank that is significantly below what she is entitled to — even if you leave aside the fact that she’s married to royalty!
So that seemed a little… off. I’m pretty sure the correct form of address to an Aes Sedai is, actually, “Aes Sedai.” Or “Jane Sedai,” if you’re being a bit less formal, or “Jane Aes Sedai” if you’re being super formal. *shrug*
Lastly, Nynaeve’s thoughts on Moiraine, post-ToM, make me all that much more eager to see Moiraine’s reunion with Rand in AMOL, and see how they will behave toward each other. Seriously, I am dying to see this. I really want to know what will happen when Rand realizes he can strike the first and worst name off his list. I really hope it will be the relief it ought to be.
Chapter 33: A Conversation with the Dragon
Rand tells Nynaeve this had better be important; he and Min are still in nightclothes. Nynaeve thinks there is less and less of the boy she knew in him. She weaves a ward against eavesdropping, and tells Rand sharply she doesn’t need his permission to channel when he comments on it. She nods to Kerb, who is bound with Air, and tells Rand that the boy may know where Alsalam is.
“The King?” Rand asked. “Graendal too, then. How do you know this, Nynaeve? Where did you find him?”
“At the dungeon where you sent Milisair Chadmar,” Nynaeve said, eyeing him. “It is terrible, Rand al’Thor. You have no right to treat a person in such a manner.”
Rand ignores this, and Nynaeve explains that Kerb tried to poison Milisair and almost certainly did the same to the messenger. Rand comments that Aes Sedai are a great deal like rats: “always in places where you are not wanted”. Nynaeve snorts, and moves on, telling him that she Delved Kerb as well, and thinks there is something wrong with his mind, a “block” of some sort. She thinks there was something similar on the messenger as well, which is why he was able to resist his interrogation. Rand casually names it Compulsion, and muses that this may be the confirmation he was looking for re: Graendal. He has Nynaeve ungag the boy and asks him who told him to poison those people. Kerb insists he knows nothing.
“Do you believe that if I simply said the word,” Rand continued in his eerie, quiet voice, “your heart would stop beating? I am the Dragon Reborn. Do you believe that I can take your life, or your soul itself, if I so much as will it to happen?”
Nynaeve saw it again, the patina of darkness around Rand, that aura that she couldn’t quite be certain was there. She raised her tea to her lips—and found that it had suddenly grown bitter and stale, as if it had been left to sit too long.
Kerb starts to cry, then goes dumb, and Rand says it is definitely Compulsion. He tells Nynaeve she will have to undo it, as he has little skill with this kind of weaving, but that reversing Compulsion is similar to Healing, and he explains to her how to do it. Nynaeve is very leery of trying a weave she’s never done before, but Rand’s unintentionally patronizing reassurance angers her enough to try it anyway. It is devilishly difficult and delicate work, and she wonders how Rand had known the method.
She shivered, thinking of what Semirhage had said about him. Memories from another life, memories he had no right to. There was a reason the Creator allowed them to forget their past lives. No man should have to remember the failures of Lews Therin Telamon.
It takes her almost an hour, but she succeeds in stripping the Compulsion from Kerb, and wobbles over to a chair, exhausted; Min has fallen asleep. Rand asks Kerb, “where is she?”, but Kerb only moans, eyes blank. Nynaeve demands to know what he’s doing to the boy, but Rand explains that she did it, in taking off the Compulsion. Graendal’s methods leave little or nothing of the mind it invaded behind, once it is taken away; he’s seen it “dozens of times.” Nynaeve is horrified.
Rand spoke to Kerb again. “I need a location,” Rand said. “Something. If there is any vestige within you that resisted, any scrap that fought her, I promise you revenge. A location. Where is she?”
Spittle dripped from the boy’s lips. They seemed to quiver. Rand stood up, looming, still holding the youth’s eyes with his own. Kerb shivered, then whispered two words.
The boy dies moments later, and Rand opines that the only thing keeping him alive had been his desire for revenge. Nynaeve insists he could have been Healed, and feels dirtied that Rand used her to do this without warning her what the consequences would be. Rand tells her not to look at him like that, and she demands to know if he feels any guilt at all. Rand replies that if he let himself feel guilty for every death he has caused, it would crush him. Nynaeve tells him that this thing he is becoming, with no emotion but anger, will destroy him. Rand answers that he knows, and wonders why everyone thinks he is too stupid to see that. Nynaeve asks why, then. Rand tells her of stories Tam had told him about Dragonmount, and how no one ever climbed to its top, because a climber could make it up, but he would not have the strength to come back down.
“You all claim that I have grown too hard, that I will inevitably shatter and break if I continue on. But you assume that there needs to be something left of me to continue on. That I need to climb back down the mountain once I’ve reached the top.
“That’s the key, Nynaeve. I see it now. I will not live through this, and so I don’t need to worry about what might happen to me after the Last Battle. I don’t need to hold back, don’t need to salvage anything of this beaten up soul of mine. I know that I must die. Those who wish for me to be softer, willing to bend, are those who cannot accept what will happen to me.” He looked down at Min again. Many times before, Nynaeve had seen affection in his eyes when he regarded her, but this time they were blank. Set in that same, emotionless face.
Nynaeve protests that there must be a way for him to both win and live, but Rand growls at her not to tempt him to hope again; it is too painful. He tells her she did well, and she admits she did it because she wanted him to trust her. Rand replies that he does trust her, as much as he trusts anyone. He says the difference between Nynaeve and Cadsuane is that Nynaeve cares about Rand.
By surrendering that most important emotion, he might make himself strong—but risked losing all reason he might have to care about the outcome of his battles.
For some reason, she couldn’t find words for the argument.
So I once again quoted way too much of this chapter, but this whole scene was a fairly pivotal one, thematically, so I can probably be forgiven for it.
Nynaeve’s conversation with Rand neatly outlines what is pretty much Rand’s central conflict as a character in TGS. Not quite in the series as a whole, I think — that would be How To Be A Savior — but definitely in the aspect of being a savior that specifically gets resolved (more or less) in TGS. Which is, of course, how to do it without letting it break you: the choice between being hard and being strong. He outright links it here to the parallel choice, which is between having hope and… not.
The nutty thing is that right now Rand’s so twisted around that he thinks the hopeless path, the one that leads him to certain destruction, is actually the wiser choice. Or at least the less painful one. And I can see the attraction of it, in a sad way; hope is painful, because it means you still have something to lose. And after all this stress and striving and struggle, I can see how it would be comforting to just stop pulling against the current and just let it carry you over the metaphorical waterfall.
The problem is, that’s not only the coward’s way out, but it’s totally not even going to work. Maybe it would in the real world, but this is epic fantasy, bub, and round here teleology is real. I think it’s pretty safe to say that when you are involved in a cosmic fundamental battle between good and evil, the one thing you can’t do is ignore the philosophical implications of how you conduct that battle.
On reflection, I’m not a hundred percent sure I’m using “teleology” correctly above — it’s been a long time since I took Philosophy in college — but if it’s correct to use in the sense of the belief that the intent of an action, for good or ill, has an impact on the goodness or badness of the result of the action, then that’s what I meant. I don’t necessarily believe that that applies in the real world, unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, depending on how you look at it), but in fantasy (indeed, most fiction), it is one of the central storytelling tenets: bad intentions produce bad results, the end.
Unless you’re deconstructing that particular tenet, of course, but I think we can all agree that if there’s one thing WOT is definitely not, it’s a deconstructionist work. (It leaves that to other epic fantasy serieses, heh.)
Hope = good; Despair = bad. So using despair to fight for good is, as a particularly colorful cousin of mine would say, one a them there illogimical contradictory thingies.
Doesn’t work, you know? Your tea goes stale, your balconies collapse, and you’ve lost the fight before you’ve begun. No bueno, Rand. No bueno at all. Stop making me sad, dammit!
Also, very nice setup in Rand’s speech to Nynaeve for the ultimate mountain-related events coming up at the end of the book. I See What You Did There, Team Jordan. Very clever.
Natrin’s Barrow: Ah, crap.
And with that last and most deepest philosophical observation, I leave you to ruminate, masticate and (if you feel the need) eviscerate my thinkings. Have a lovely week, kids, and I’ll see you next time!