Happy Tuesday, WOTers! Welcome back to the Wheel of Time Re-read!
Today’s entry covers Chapters 1 and 2 of Towers of Midnight, in which we discuss the merits of leadership, the probability of post-apocalyptic trans-dimensional commerce, and organic vs. messianic farming methods.
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!
But before the rest, this!
It soon became obvious, even within the stedding, that the Pattern was growing frail. The sky darkened. Our dead appeared, standing in rings outside the borders of the stedding, looking in. Most troublingly, trees fell ill, and no song would heal them.
It was in this time of sorrows that I stepped up to the Great Stump. At first, I was forbidden, but my mother, Covril, demanded I have my chance. I do not know what sparked her change of heart, as she herself had argued quite decisively for the opposing side. My hands shook. I would be the last speaker, and most seemed to have already made up their minds to open the Book of Translation. They considered me an afterthought.
And I knew that unless I spoke true, humanity would be left alone to face the Shadow. In that moment, my nervousness fled. I felt only a stillness, a calm sense of purpose. I opened my mouth, and I began to speak.
—from The Dragon Reborn, by Loial, son of Arent son of Halan, of Stedding Shangtai
By rights this should have gone before my commentary on the Prologue, for the very good reason that it comes, you know, before the Prologue, but I was a complete dumbass twice in a row and forgot to include it. So you’re getting it late and out of order. Sowwy!
So, the obvious reaction here is: Go, Loial, go!
Although, there really are two ways to look at this. The other way is to point out that Loial is convincing his people to fight and die and possibly even get wiped out entirely for the sake of a kind of crappy world they’d been actively shunning for thousands of years already. But there’s no need to be a Negative Nelly!
But, regardless, I have not the slightest doubt that Loial will succeed. If for no other reason than that I don’t think they will have perfected interdimensional book shipping in the Fourth Age, and ergo logically Loial must have stuck around for there to be a book by him floating around in Randland.
Of course, I could be wrong. And actually I am a little confused about this Book of Translation thingy anyway, because I was under the distinct impression that if the Dark One actually wins the Last Battle, he wins it on all possible worlds simultaneously. Game over, Wheel broken, lights out, universe. This was from a quote/interview/thing from Jordan himself which I am deeply certain someone can provide a link to in the comments, hint, hint.
Ergo, what on earth (no pun intended) would be the good of “translating” the Ogiers to a different, um, whatever (version of Randland? Alternate dimension? World without shrimp?), if that whatever will be just as doomed if Rand and Co. lose as this one will?
What am I missing here? Or is my basic premise wrong? DO tell.
(No, really. Tell me.)
Chapter 1: Apples First
Wheel, Time, Ages, legend, myth, wind. The wind travels from Imfaral over the whole of a wrecked Seandar, where “a murderer openly ruled” and men believed the end times had come. The wind crosses the ocean to another continent, to an orchard of apple trees near the base of Dragonmount, where Almen Bunt stands with his nephews Adim and Hahn. Almen doesn’t know much about orchards, but he knows that it is not natural that the entire crop of apples fell off their trees and rotted in one night.
“We barely have a week’s grain left,” Adim said softly. “And what we’ve got, we got by promises on the crop. Nobody will give us anything, now. Nobody has anything.”
Almen thinks of mysterious disappearances and people scrawling Dragon Fangs on doors. He had thought they were fools, but now he is not so sure anymore. Hahn asks what they should do; Almen assures them this is only a temporary setback and sends them off on chores, but once alone admits to himself that he had never seen anything like this. The village is starving, and so are all the towns nearby, and the apples that were supposed to save them are gone. Almen feels despair, and wonders if it is time to give up.
He felt something on his neck. Warmth.
He hesitated, then turned weary eyes toward the sky. Sunlight bathed his face. He gaped; it seemed so long since he’d seen pure sunlight. It shone down through a large break in the clouds, comforting, like the warmth of an oven baking a loaf of Adrinne’s thick sourdough bread.
Then he smells apple blossoms, and realizes the trees are all flowering, and the rotted apples beneath them are disappearing. Almen wonders if he is going mad. Then he turns to see a tall young man in ragged clothes walking down from the foothills of the mountain. Almen greets him and asks if he got lost, and sees with a shock that his left hand is gone.
The stranger looked about, then breathed in deeply. “No. I’m not lost. Finally. It feels like a great long time since I’ve understood the path before me.”
Confused, Almen points out that that path only leads up Dragonmount, where all the game is long since hunted out. The stranger replies that there is always something useful to find if you look closely enough; “To learn but not be overwhelmed, that is the balance.” Almen wonders if maybe the man is not quite right in the head, but thinks there is something familiar about him. He asks if he knows the man, and the other tells him yes, and he’ll want to gather his people to collect the apples. Almen turns to see that the trees are loaded down with hundreds of perfect ripe apples.
“I am going mad,” Almen said, turning back to the man.
“It’s not you who is mad, friend,” the stranger said. “But the entire world. Gather those apples quickly. My presence will hold him off for a time, I think, and whatever you take now should be safe from his touch.”
Almen finally recognizes him as one of the two youths he’d given a ride to Caemlyn in his cart years ago, and further that he must be the Dragon Reborn, and feels a strange peace when looking at him. He goes to leave, and Almen asks him where he is going. The Dragon Reborn tells him he’s going to do something he’s been putting off, and that he doubts “she” will be pleased by what he tells her. As he leaves, Almen thinks he sees something around the man for a moment: “a lightness to the air, warped and bent”. He dashes toward his sister’s house, his pain gone, and meets Adim and two others. He points to the orchard, and tells them to gather everyone in the village to pick apples before the day ends. They run off to look, and Almen thinks that even the grass seems healthier.
He looked eastward. Almen felt a pull inside of him. Something was tugging him softly in the direction the stranger had gone.
Apples first, he thought. Then…well, then he’d see.
Enter: JESUS RAND.
And it is pretty awesome.
Which is interesting, because I was not at all sure of that when I first read ToM. In fact, in my original spoiler review of the book I was fairly emphatic about my ambivalence re: Rand’s transformation:
True, this calm, collected, Jedi Master, Walkin’ On Sunshine Rand/Lews Therin hybrid guy is much more relaxing to be around—or at least, he’s now unnerving to be around in a much more relaxing way, if that makes any sense—and certainly he’s more, er, environmentally sound than the old Rand was, especially in the later books.
But you know, I’ve spent over a decade by now following the adventures of Just Rand al’Thor, in all his pissy, infuriating, bullheaded, scarily badass, semi-bugnuts, ridiculously noble, achingly damaged, eye-rollingly naïve and occasionally catastrophically stupid glory… and I want him back, dammit.
My first thought on this is, wow, sometimes I am waaay too excited about adverbial phrases. My second and much more relevant thought is that I see where 2010-era me (!) was coming from, and I still agree that I kind of miss Old School Rand, but I now emphatically disagree that I want him back.
Because I really, really don’t. No Way, José.
I can’t be sure, but I think this change in my perspective stems pretty much entirely from one factor, and that is the fact that this time, I am reading this having come straight off an intensive recap-and-commentary of the book preceding it, TGS. In which, as you no doubt recall, I spent weeks slogging my way inch by inch through Old School Rand being ugly and mean and (literally) toxic and broken, and being beaten down to his personal and utterly awful nadir. And it was wretched, and painful, and while it had to be done and I applaud it narratively, I never, ever, want to go there with this character again, and that is a fact.
Whereas the first (and second) time I read ToM, I had not actually read TGS in over a year, and therefore I think the visceral horror of Old School Semi-Evil Rand’s journey through that book had faded too much for me to properly appreciate what a frickin’ relief it was to see post-epiphany Jesus Zen Master Rand in his place.
Well, let’s just say I bloody well appreciate it now. And the symbolism there (the land growing healthier just from his presence), and the significance of it (when he’d been virtually causing the opposite before), could not be clearer or more welcome.
Plus, it was just so nice to see something, well, nice happen. After so long of things getting progressively worse and worse, to see it finally swing in the opposite direction was like a breath of fresh air. Er, literally, for Almen Bunt, anyway.
Speaking of which: Almen Bunt! Love that, a shoutout all the way back to TEOTW. Sometimes the Law of Conservation of Characters can be quite fun.
Although, I am a little befuddled by this bit:
[Almen] glanced eastward, toward Tar Valon. Could the witches be to blame for the failed crop?
Erm. Really? Because I am a bit confused as to how an Andorman and a self-professed Queen’s man (as Almen identifies himself earlier in the chapter) can also be in the habit of regarding Aes Sedai as “witches”. Even if he meant Morgase and not Elayne by “Queen’s man” (and even if it’s not general knowledge that Morgase has a minimal channeling ability herself, which I’m not sure whether it was), Morgase still trained in the Tower. Not to mention, the Andoran royal family has a long history of open and trusting association with the Tower, and Andor in general has had a very amicable relationship with the Aes Sedai, at least compared to many other nations. Such blatant prejudice against the Aes Sedai from Almen, then, seems… incongruous.
The lad had carved Almen a set of wooden teeth as an arrival gift earlier in the spring. Wondrous things, held together by wires, with gaps for the few remaining teeth he had. But if he chewed too hard, they’d go all out of shape.
OW. That is all.
(Except, randomly: did you know that contrary to popular legend, George Washington did not have wooden teeth? His falsies were made of hippotamus ivory! That cracks me up for some reason. And also, reading about Washington’s dental issues is one of the few times I’ve been happier to have my own teeth instead, because damn.)
As a final note on this chapter, I was extremely confused by the “wind” bit on first reading, mostly because I stopped to search for “Imfaral” on the map before reading far enough to realize that it was a place in Seandar and therefore not on the map, but even this time around I found it a little baffling from a timing perspective.
For instance, the “murderer who openly ruled” in Seandar is clearly Semirhage, but at the time the wind’s blowing around here, Semirhage has already been balefired with extreme TP-ness by Rand, and was in captivity before that for I think somewhere around a month (though the chronology on both TGS and ToM is, I am assured, very wonky, so I’m not sure of this, but it was definitely a while). So what, did Seandar just not notice that their new tyrannical overlord has been missing all that time?
The killing field surrounded thirteen fortresses, tall and cut entirely from unpolished black marble, their blocks left rough-hewn to give them a primal feeling of unformed strength. These were towers meant for war. By tradition they were unoccupied.
I thought for the longest time that these were meant to be the titular “Towers of Midnight”, and was equally puzzled and annoyed by that, because why the hell do we care about midnight-y towers in Seandar, where we have been assured the action will never go? Of course, we find out later that the title almost certainly refers to something else entirely, but I retain a mild annoyance, then, that these extraneous and confusing non-titular black towers had to be stuck in here in the first place.
Out into the Sleeping Bay, [the wind] passed the attackers: enormous greatships with sails painted blood red. They sailed southward, their grisly work done.
Er. What? Semirhage had a fleet? Since when? Ooo…kay. I missed that…
Chapter 2: Questions of Leadership
Perrin’s now enormous company of soldiers and refugees has almost reached the Jehannah Road, which Perrin had originally planned to reach in a week from Malden. But with the bubble of evil and the resulting sickness that had almost killed both his Asha’man, it had taken them over a month. Basel Gill’s party was supposed to be waiting for them, but the scouts sent ahead had been unable to find them. Perrin speaks to the leader of yet another ragtag group of men who had probably been bandits, who doesn’t care that Perrin doesn’t have wages for them; they only want food. Reluctantly, Perrin tells them to go to Tam al’Thor.
“Do you really have food?”
“We do,” Perrin said. “I just said so.”
“And it doesn’t spoil after a night left alone?”
“Course it doesn’t,” Perrin said sternly. “Not if you keep it right.” Some of their grain might have weevils in it, but it was edible. The man seemed to find that incredible, as if Perrin had said his wagons would soon sprout wings and fly off for the mountains.
He rides on, trying to ignore both his memories of his unsettling dreams and his unwanted bodyguards the Two Rivers men had insisted upon after Aram. Arganda approaches and opines that the “mercenaries” Perrin had taken in should be strung up instead, and Perrin tells him they aren’t executing anyone without proof of a crime. He thinks that Arganda and Gallenne had been tractable for a while after Malden, but now old divisions are resurfacing. Arganda goes off, and after a while Gaul returns from a scouting run, bringing a man named Fennel, who had been with Gill et al. He explains that the party had turned toward Lugard instead of continuing north as Perrin had ordered because they had heard the northern route was all but impassable for carts, which is why the scouts couldn’t find them. Perrin is annoyed, but supposes the choice was reasonable, and sends Fennel off with thanks.
“Somebody had to do it, my Lord.” He hesitated. “Most feared you hadn’t…well, that things had gone wrong, my Lord. You see, we figured you’d be faster than us, since we had those carts. But from the look of things here, you decided to bring the entire town with you!”
It wasn’t far from the truth, unfortunately. He waved Fennel on.
Gaul tells him of a good campsite up ahead, and Perrin decides to stop for a day to regroup and decide whether to wait for the Asha’man to recover enough to move everyone by gateway, or to continue on. He thinks that once Grady is strong enough, that he should send Alliandre and her men home, as well as the Two Rivers men, and go himself to Rand and “make up” their pretend fight, and then finally get rid of Berelain too, as their truce seems to be over now that Faile is back. He sees Annoura, and thinks that he still doesn’t know why she was meeting with Masema, and probably never will now that it is a moot point.
The Prophet was dead, killed by bandits. Well, perhaps that was a fitting end for him, but Perrin still felt he’d failed. Rand had wanted Masema brought to him. The colors swirled again.
Either way, it was time for Perrin to return to Rand. The colors swirled, showing Rand standing in front of a building with a burned front, staring westward. Perrin banished the image.
Perrin thinks that he should feel better now that his tasks have been carried out, but he still feels like something is wrong. Faile approaches, and he tells her the news. She listens, and then remarks thoughtfully on the oddness of how many people they’ve acquired in the last few weeks – some five thousand – even in these desolate lands. Perrin doesn’t understand how he can be so glad she is back and yet feel so awkward around her now. He tells her they have too many people, and he should start ordering them away.
“You can’t give orders to the Pattern itself, my husband.” She glanced over at the column of people as they moved onto the road.
“What do—” He cut off, catching her meaning. “You think this is me? Being ta’veren?”
“Every stop along our trip, you’ve gained more followers,” Faile said. “Despite our losses against the Aiel, we came out of Malden with a stronger force than when we started.”
Perrin tries to insist this is coincidence, but she is only amused. He tells her that he is sending them all away as soon as he can, but she is unconvinced this will actually happen. Perrin sighs and says he is not a good leader; Faile disagrees. Perrin angrily reminds her of how the whole thing almost fell apart while she was gone. She smells angry when he mentions the censure of the Two Rivers men for what they think he did with Berelain, but he reminds her that it was his fault for not squashing the rumor promptly, not Berelain’s. Faile counters that she’s heard a completely different story of his leadership: that Perrin contained the internal strife of his forces, formed a powerful alliance with the Seanchan, and acted decisively to get everyone to work together to pull off a nearly impossible campaign in Malden.
“Those are the actions of a leader.”
“Faile…” he said, suppressing a growl. Why wouldn’t she listen? When she’d been a captive, nothing had mattered to him but recovering her. Nothing. It didn’t matter who had needed his help, or what orders he’d been given. Tarmon Gai’don itself could have started, and he’d have ignored it in order to find Faile.
He realized now how dangerous his actions had been. Trouble was, he’d take those same actions again. He didn’t regret what he’d done, not for a moment. A leader couldn’t be like that.
Faile goes on to remark that oddly, she thinks her captivity might have been just what both of them needed. Perrin is astounded by this, but the discussion is interrupted when the Maiden scouts return, smelling concerned; one of them tells him there is something beside the road he needs to see.
Galad wakes, naked, battered and bloody, and realizes he is in a tent, chained to a stake in the ground. He thinks it is unfortunate that it had ended up that the Questioners (and therefore the Seanchan) controlled the Children, but he feels neither anger at those who had betrayed him nor fear at what comes next.
Soon the Questioners would come for him, and then the true price for saving his men would be exacted with their hooks and knives. He had been aware of that price when he’d made his decision. In a way, he had won, for he had manipulated the situation best.
The other way to ensure his victory was to hold to the truth under their questioning. To deny being a Darkfriend with his final breath. It would be difficult, but it would be right.
He struggles to the side of the tent and uses the flaps to laboriously clean his face, determined that he would go to his fate with a clean face. When he hears men approaching the tent, he forces himself to ignore his pain and his lack of clothes, and hauls himself to his feet, to be standing when they enter. Several men enter the tent, and one of them exclaims that he is able to stand at all; Galad is confused to recognize the speaker as Trom. Then he sees that Bornhald and Byar are there too, and barks at them to stop, that he commanded them not to free him. Lords Captain Golever, Harnesh and Vordarian enter the tent and tell him his men did not disobey him.
“What is this?” Galad asked them.
Harnesh opened a sack and dumped something bulbous to the ground in front of Galad. A head.
All three men drew swords and knelt before him, the points of their weapons stabbing the canvas. Trom unlocked the manacles at Galad’s feet.
Galad says they have turned on their fellow Children, and Vordarian asks what else they should have done. Galad asks why they changed their minds, and Golever tells him that while Asunawa turned them over to the Seanchan and would have led them in battle against other Children, they saw how Galad acted to prevent the same, and saw no other course but to turn against Asunawa. Golever says that they were forced to kill a third of the Questioners, and have the Amadicians and the Questioners who tried to run under guard. Galad orders that those of the prisoners who wish to leave should be released, and accepts their allegiance to him as Lord Captain Commander. He tells them they are to march for Andor.
Galad didn’t feel wise or strong enough to bear the title he did. But the Children had made their decision.
The Light would protect them for it.
One of the more aptly named chapters, I think. Questions of leadership indeed.
As far as Perrin goes, one of the most interesting things about the argument he has with Faile over whether he is a good leader is that, in my opinion, they are both right. I want Faile to be more right than Perrin is on this subject, of course, and obviously ultimately she is, but Perrin does have a pretty strong point when he says that his willingness to chuck everything else for Faile’s sake is not a good thing to have in a leader. Because it isn’t.
Then again, as Steven Wright would say, you can’t have everything – where would you put it?
Perrin’s problem, clearly, is that he’s under the impression that you have to score a 2400 on the Leadership SAT to even earn the title, when the sadly substandard reality is that it’s more like No Honcho Left Behind. In other words, you generally need to have a hell of a lot more than just one glaring flaw in your leadership skillz before people will kick you to the curb, and sometimes even then they still won’t, as long as you’re sufficiently good at other things. Bashere should have told Perrin about his psycho tree-burying general, instead of Rand; maybe Perrin would have gotten more out of the example.
(For the sake of argument, I’m pretending that the theoretical followers here actually have the option of ousting bad leaders. They kind of don’t, of course, but that’s not really my point here. Though of course y’all can make it the point in the comments if you so desire.)
As for Galad, I’m never not going to have issues with his whacked-out philosophical underpinnings, but if leadership merit was measured strictly in terms of sheer bloody-minded fuck-you badassedness, he’d be President of the World.
Fortunately, this is not the case. But even so: Damn, boy.
And that’s really all there is to say about this chapter, other than that Perrin’s swirly Technicolor Ta’veren Telepathy™ finally establishes where his (and Galad’s) storyline is compared to everyone else’s. Which is to say, WAY the hell behind. So that’s good to know, I guess?
…And, yeah. So have a lovely post-Memorial Day Tuesday if that be your national inclination, and I will see you next week!