Pencils ready, WOTers! Because we’re back, and Wheel +Time + Re-read = FUN. Right? Right!
Today’s entry covers Part I of the Prologue of Towers of Midnight, in which numbers add up, dilemmas multiply, and equations are reduced by a different integer than we were perhaps led to expect. Though we shoulda oughta woulda known, if we’d only done the homework. For shame! *points*
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 upcoming final volume, A Memory of Light.
This re-read post contains spoilers for all currently published Wheel of Time novels. If you haven’t read, read at your own risk.
And now, the post!
Prologue: Distinctions [Part I]
Lan Mandragoran rides east through the barren lands of northern Saldaea, parallel to the Blight, thinking of how much Nynaeve had become an Aes Sedai, taking the broadest possible interpretation of her promise to put him in the Borderlands. He notes movement nearby and maintains his pace while preparing an arrow for possible ambush, but then sees it is a single man on foot, leading a packhorse. The man greets Lan eagerly, telling him he’s been looking for him and has brought supplies. Lan demands to know who he is, and the man introduces himself as Bulen from Kandor. Lan is startled to remember Bulen as a gawky lad from twenty years ago. Bulen tells him he set out as soon as he’d heard from El’Nynaeve that the Golden Crane had been raised.
Burn that woman, Lan thought. And she’d made him swear that he would accept those who wished to ride with him! Well, if she could play games with the truth, then so could he. Lan had said he’d take anyone who wished to ride with him. This man was not mounted. Therefore, Lan could refuse him. A petty distinction, but twenty years with Aes Sedai had taught him a few things about how to watch one’s words.
Lan tells Bulen to go back to Aesdaishar and starts to ride on. From behind, Bulen calls out that his father was Malkieri, but died when Bulen was five, leaving Bulen his hadori. Lan continues to ride off, and Bulen shouts that he would wear his father’s hadori, but has no one to ask permission that he may, so that he may fight the darkness. Lan tells him to go to the Dragon Reborn or his queen’s army, then. Bulen points out that Lan cannot forage for supplies in a land that has none, and Lan hesitates.
“All those years ago,” Bulen called, walking forward, his packhorse walking behind him. “I hardly knew who you were, though I know you lost someone dear to you among us. I’ve spent years cursing myself for not serving you better. I swore that I would stand with you someday.” He walked up beside Lan. “I ask you because I have no father. May I wear the hadori and fight at your side, al’Lan Mandragoran? My King?”
Lan reflects that Aes Sedai may wriggle around their promises, but he will not. He warns Bulen that they will ride anonymously, and he is not raising the Golden Crane. Bulen agrees, and Lan tells him he may ride with him, then.
And the one became two.
Perrin dreams he is in a forge, hammering on a red-hot piece of metal. He knows somehow that this is not the wolf dream, even though Hopper is in the corner of the room. He knows he is making a piece of something very important, but not what it is. Hopper is amused that men insist on making things into other things, and Perrin sees that the result of his work is misshapen and shoddy. He starts working on it again, reflecting that everything should be better now, but somehow it seemed worse.
He hated those rumors that the men in camp whispered about him. Perrin had been sick and Berelain had cared for him. That was the end of it. But still those whispers continued.
The piece is still terrible, and he tosses it aside and starts on another. He thinks that he needs to spend time with Faile to fix the awkwardness between them since her rescue, but that he has no time for that. The second piece is as bad as the first, and Hopper comments that if he is so unhappy he should just leave. Perrin replies that that would mean giving into being a wolf, losing himself, and he won’t do that. He thinks he has gained a precarious truce with the wolf inside, but that he could still lose control at any time. Hopper is only amused. Perrin asks if there is any way to reverse it, to go so far away that he cannot hear the wolves anymore.
Hopper seemed confused. No. “Confused” did not convey the pained sendings that came from Hopper. Nothingness, the scent of rotting meat, wolves howling in agony. Being cut off was not a thing Hopper could conceive.
He sees the quenching barrel is boiling, and reaches in with tongs to draw out a figurine of Aram. The figurine moves, screaming in pain, and Perrin cries out and drops it. It shatters on the floor, and Hopper wants to know why Perrin thinks so much about that one when in Hopper’s estimation that’s what always happens when a young pup challenges the pack leader. The forge disappears, and Perrin sees a shadow of himself in Malden, fighting the Aiel. He is startled by how formidable he appears, and is confused that the other Perrin has the axe, when in the real Malden Perrin had carried the hammer.
A horn or a hoof, Young Bull, does it matter which one you use to hunt? Hopper was sitting in the sunlit street beside him.
“Yes. It matters. It does to me.”
And yet you use them the same way.
He becomes the other Perrin, and reenacts his battle in Malden, except with the axe instead of the hammer. When Aram arrives he refuses to reenact that fight, and splits off from the other Perrin, watching the shadow version of himself fight Aram instead. Then the other Perrin turns into a wolf and rips Aram’s throat out, and Perrin protests that it didn’t happen that way; Aram had been killed by Aiel arrows. Hopper asks why it matters how it happened; dead is dead. Perrin says he should never have allowed Aram to keep the sword.
Does not a cub deserve his fangs? Hopper asked, genuinely confused. Why would you pull them?
“It is a thing of men,” Perrin said.
Things of two-legs, of men. Always, it is a thing of men to you. What of things of wolves?
“I am not a wolf.”
They go back to the forge, where the barrel is still boiling. Perrin pulls out more figurines: Tod al’Caar, Jori Congar, etc., until there are hundreds of them on the floor. Perrin thinks they look accusing. Then the shards of the Aram figurine attack him, and Perrin lurches awake in his tent. The camp is still sick from a bubble of evil that caused serpents to appear and bite hundreds of the company. Perrin tries to go back to sleep, but finds rest elusive.
Graendal sips wine and listens to Aran’gar complain about being holed up in Natrin’s Barrow and missing “all the excitement.” Graendal suspects Aran’gar is just trying to needle her, and in retribution, embraces the True Power and uses it to caress Aran’gar’s cheek, revealing that she had permission to use it along with Moridin.
The Great Lord’s essence forced the Pattern, straining it and leaving it scarred. Even something the Creator had designed to be eternal could be unraveled using the Great Lord’s energies. It bespoke an eternal truth—something as close to being sacred as Graendal was willing to accept. Whatever the Creator could build, the Great Lord could destroy.
Aran’gar is unnerved by this proof of favor toward Graendal but also aroused by it, and sends for Delana to take the edge off. Graendal thinks the Black sister is ugly and unappealing, but finds it useful that Aran’gar is so insatiable. Then Graendal freezes as an alarm only she can hear goes off. She leaves Aran’gar to her pleasures and casually goes to meet with her captain of the guard, who tells her that a minor Domani lord, Piqor Ramshalan, has been caught approaching the palace. She has them bring Ramshalan to her and immediately clamps down on him with Compulsion. He spills out that he has been sent by the Dragon Reborn to seek an alliance with the merchant family living here, and then a lot of drivel about his own importance that Graendal cuts off.
The Dragon Reborn had found her.
He had sent a distraction for her.
He thought he could manipulate her.
She instantly wove a gateway to one of her most secure hiding places. Cool air wafted in from an area of the world where it was morning, not early evening. Best to be careful. Best to flee. And yet…
She hesitated. He must know pain…he must know frustration…he must know anguish. Bring these to him. You will be rewarded.
Aran’gar barges in, and Graendal closes the gateway before she notices it. She curtly explains the situation and asks if Delana knows Compulsion. Aran’gar replies that Delana is “passably skilled.” Graendal has Aran’gar go get her, and while the other Forsaken is gone she uses the True Power to lay a weave on a dove that will let her see through the bird’s eyes. Aran’gar returns with Delana. Graendal removes her own Compulsion from Ramshalan, and orders Delana to put Compulsion on him instead, and Aran’gar to do the same. Delana is confused and Aran’gar suspicious, but both obey. Graendal worries that al’Thor will attack, but reassures herself that he will not harm women, which gives her time to respond.
How had he managed to trace her to this palace? She had covered herself perfectly. The only minions she’d let out of her sight were under Compulsion so heavy that it would kill them to remove it. Could it be that the Aes Sedai he kept with him—Nynaeve, the woman gifted in Healing—had been able to undermine and read Graendal’s weaves?
When Aran’gar is finished Graendal sends Ramshalan off, and seats herself to follow him through the eyes of the dove. She watches Ramshalan walk through the woods and return to a clearing where al’Thor, Nynaeve and several others are waiting. Graendal watches as Nynaeve examines him and confirms he is under Compulsion, and decides the Aes Sedai needs to die. She sees that al’Thor has the access key, and that it is glowing, and suddenly realizes she’d been played. She releases the True Power and embraces saidar, and makes a gateway to just outside the complex as Aran’gar is demanding to know what’s happening, as she is feeling an unbelievable amount of power building up from outside. She slams shields on Aran’gar and Delana to prevent them from escaping, and leaps through the gateway just as Aran’gar and everything else is consumed.
A wave of wrongness washed over her, a warping in the air, the Pattern itself rippling. A balescream, it was called—a moment when creation itself howled in pain.
She breathed in and out, trembling. But she had to see. She had to know. She rose to her feet, left ankle twisted. She hobbled to the treeline and looked down.
Natrin’s Barrow—the entire palace—was gone. Burned out of the Pattern. She couldn’t see al’Thor on his distant ridge, but she knew where he was.
“You,” she growled. “You have become far more dangerous than I assumed.”
She thinks it is a disaster at first, but then realizes that she is now safer than she has ever been before, since al’Thor will think her dead. She limps away, planning her next move.
Mandarb’s hooves beat a familiar rhythm on broken ground as Lan Mandragoran rode toward his death.
I gotta say, as book-opening sentences go, this one is pretty kickass.
Other than that, I have nothing for Lan’s part of this Prologue except a well-satisfied grin. It was exactly the teaser it should be; you already know (more or less) where his arc is going, and yet you’re eager to see it unfold. Nicely done.
As for Perrin, I honestly don’t know how much of this is the influence of hindsight and how much of it was my genuine reaction at the time, but I seem to recall that when I first read this bit my readerly attention perked up a bit, at what seems like a subtle but definite shift in tone.
On the surface it seems like the same emo crap Perrin’s been wangsting about for the last umpty-million books, but on closer inspection, there was this feel of things swinging around. It was a feel of, instead of this particular story arc just spinning its wheels in the mud, that it was going to a place where it was like, oh, we’re going to actually look at your dilemma head-on now, are we? And stop nancing around it like it has icky cooties? Interesting.
It’s all set up in this passage, Perrin’s central conflicts as a character: his discomfort with and lack of confidence in his role as a leader, his problems reconciling his love for his wife with the moral dubiousness of the things he’d been willing to do as a result of it, his role as a destructor (axe) versus that of a builder (hammer) and how easily those roles can be conflated, and most importantly, his fear of accepting the part of him that is Wolfbrother, and all that it implies – or what he thinks it implies, anyway.
It’s kind of a matter of opinion whether Min’s viewing of him battling his way toward a cliff has been fulfilled or not, but to me Hopper’s refusal here to take Perrin’s bullshit on the latter subject has a distinct air of herding him toward a precipice he has so far simply refused to even look over the edge of, much less contemplated jumping off of it. And it’s about damn time.
Of course, it’s easy for me to say that. But the comparison of the idea of Perrin accepting the wolf within to that of jumping off a cliff is apt for a reason. If someone told you, hey, yeah, step off this two-hundred-foot dropoff with no apparent bungee-like gear or giant trampoline at the bottom to break the fall, it’ll be fine, you’ll totally fly, trust me! – wouldn’t you hesitate? At the very least? I would. And yet, at some point you really just have to take that leap of faith, don’t you?
The Graendal POV was fairly unique in that I had the exact same AHA! reaction twice while reading it: once completely erroneously at the beginning, before I realized it was a flashback, and once correctly at the end, when my TGS-era prediction of “No body, no kill!” was proven right anyway. Not that I think I get major kudos for this or anything, because I don’t think hardly anyone believed she was Really Most Sincerely Dead. But it was gratifying anyway, so neener.
Although, looking at Jordan’s track record over the series, honestly none of us had any business making that assumption based on a lack of body, because that’s been one of the few fantasy tropes (warning: timesuck link) that Jordan actually inverted fairly consistently when it came to villain deaths. Not coincidentally, that tendency has also been one of the biggest sources of controversy/disgruntlement/endless conspiracy-theorying in the fandom.
Most infamously, of course, in the case of Asmodean. More recent WOT fans may forget (or not have been aware) that the first giant fight over Asmodean’s murder scene was not just over who “You? No!” referred to, but also over whether “You” had actually killed him or not. Hence the disclaimer at the start of the FAQ article on Asmodean’s death, informing the reader that yes, he’s really dead, and no, the “death took him” line was not a horrific pun on Moridin “taking” Asmo somewhere. (I was always like, for what, coffee?) But, there were a similarly large (or even larger) number of fans who automatically assumed Sammael’s death in ACOS was a fakeout for the exact same reason: no body. In both cases it took a flat-out declaration from Jordan himself of the unequivocal deadness of the two characters to get us to shut up about it.
Well, mostly. Given the number of times I’ve seen people still arguing that Taim is Demandred, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to find that there is someone out there who still believes Sammael or even Asmodean is still running around out there, all evidence (and sanity) to the contrary. My favorite was the guy I saw somewhere on the Internet years ago who declared that Jordan’s assertion that Sammael was really, truly dead was, and I quote, “obviously mistaken.”
The mind boggles sometimes, it really does. Though I guess it does show just how well we as a genre-savvy (and, er, narratively paranoid) set of people have internalized this particular trope. (Some of us clearly more than others, sheesh.)
Ergo, the lack of physical evidence in Graendal’s “death” in TGS probably shouldn’t have made us all as disbelieving as it did. Even though in this case we were right. And… um. So, the lesson is, even when you’re right, you shouldn’t have been expecting it!
…Or something that makes actual sense. Shaddup.
BUT THE POINT IS, Graendal is not dead. Yay…ish? Sort of yay. I certainly wasn’t ever rooting for her or anything, far from it, but I definitely did think that it would have been a waste of a good villain to die like that.
Whether she then fulfilled her Good Villain-y campaign promises… well, we’ll get to that.
As for Aran’gar, pfft. A lame death for a lame villain. Sure, whatever, don’t care.
Though as a random note, I was deeply amused by the use of the phrase “exchanging affections” to denote Aran’gar and Delana’s sexytimes. It’s just so… prim. I had to giggle at it. Heh.
And I’m not disparaging it, because really, I sat there for a ridiculously long time trying to come up with an alternate phrase that still worked both within WOT’s style of prose and within WOT’s level of, er, smuttishness (i.e. none), and couldn’t come up with anything that wasn’t either completely anachronistic or utterly idiotic sounding.
Seriously, try it yourself. Hours of entertainment, y’all. So, it’s a perfect phrase to use there, I just think it’s hilarious.
(On that note, though, “she’d been played” is a verbatim quote from the text. I’m just saying.)
And here the lesson endeth, at least for now! Thanks to everyone who wished me a happy birthday in the comments to the last entry, by the way, y’all are sweet. Have a delicious and nutritious week, kiddies, and I’ll see you next Tuesday!