Greetings and salutations, alla y’all! It’s a Wheel of Time Re-read!
Today’s entry covers Chapters 15 and 16 of Towers of Midnight, in which Nynaeve is awesome, productive picnics provide progress, and I have to forcibly restrain myself from being extremely tacky with Kansas lyrics.
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!
Chapter 15: Use a Pebble
Nynaeve and the Asha’man Naeff head through the streets of Tear to where a bubble of evil had been reported. Naeff warns her to be careful of the Myrddraal following them, and Nynaeve reflects sadly that while Naeff’s residual madness from the taint isn’t getting worse, it isn’t getting better either. Rand has left the city “to fetch something,” and Nynaeve knows she must leave for the Tower as soon as he returns, though it galls her to have to obey Egwene. They reach the area where the bubble struck, which looks washed-out compared to the buildings around it, and as soon as she and Naeff venture into the area they discover that everything inside the bubble’s radius — including people – has turned to a fine, lifeless powder that crumbles the moment anyone touches it. She and Naeff sweep the area with weaves of Air, shattering the buildings to search for survivors, but everything is dust. Nynaeve curiously touches the gathered dust with Fire, and is shocked when it all ignites instantly; she is grateful they had gathered it all first.
Nynaeve closed her eyes. The entire world was falling apart, and she was powerless to Heal it. She felt sick and angry.
Naeff tells her maybe the Fades watching them caused it, and on impulse she Delves him, trying to figure out how to Heal the madness in him. She notes that it seems similar to Compulsion, and wonders if perhaps the madness from the taint could be considered the Dark One’s own kind of Compulsion. She tries a counterweave, but it fails, and in frustration she Delves deeper, and sees that the darkness has tiny “thorns” embedded in Naeff’s mind. She uses Spirit to pry one free, and it works. She moves on to the others, prying them all loose, and then tries the counterweave again, and this time the darkness vanishes.
Nynaeve stumbled back, drained near to exhaustion. Naeff blinked, then looked around. He raised a hand to his head.
Light! she thought. Did I hurt him? I shouldn’t have barreled into that. I could have—
“They’re gone,” Naeff said. “The Fades… I can’t see them anymore.” He blinked. “Why would Fades be hiding in the shadows anyway? If I could see them, they’d have killed me, and—” He looked at her, focusing. “What did you do?”
“I… I think I just Healed your madness.” Well, she’d done something to it. What she’d done hadn’t been any standard Healing, and hadn’t even used Healing weaves. But it had worked, it seemed.
Naeff smiled deeply, seeming bewildered. He took her hand with both of his, then knelt before her, growing teary-eyed. “For months, I have felt as if I were always being watched. As if I would be murdered the moment I turned my back on the shadows. Now I… Thank you. I need to go find Nelavaire.”
“Off with you, then,” Nynaeve said. Naeff left her in a dash, running back toward the Stone to search out his Aes Sedai.
I can’t let myself begin to think that nothing I do matters. That’s what the Dark One wants.
She notes the clouds breaking up, signaling Rand’s return. He finds her there talking with the families of the victims, trying to comfort them, and thanks her for caring for his people, even those who don’t need it. She asks if that includes him, and he replies that no, he’s always needed it. She is surprised by the admission. Rand nods to the destroyed area and says that the Dark One wants to do this to the entire world, and the longer they wait the more he destroys. Nynaeve asks if letting the Dark One free won’t make it even worse; Rand replies that perhaps it will, but opening the Bore will not free him immediately, and it must be done while they are still strong enough to fight him. Nynaeve realizes she believes him, and says so; Rand is relieved, and asks her to try and convince Egwene of it. She tells him Egwene has called her back to the Tower; Rand looks sad, but accepts it. He asks her, though, to try not to let them “ruin” her.
“Your passion is part of you,” Rand said. “I tried to be like them, though I wouldn’t have admitted it. Cold. Always in control. It nearly destroyed me. That is strength to some, but it is not the only type of strength. […] I would not see you become another ‘perfect’ Aes Sedai with a painted mask of a face and no care for the feelings and emotions of others.”
“To be Aes Sedai is to be calm,” Nynaeve replied.
“To be Aes Sedai is to be what you decide it is,” Rand said, his stump still held behind his back. “Moiraine cared. You could see it in her, even when she was calm. The best Aes Sedai I’ve known are the ones who others complain aren’t what an Aes Sedai should be.”
Nynaeve is surprised again to realize Rand seems like the kind of person she could take advice from now. Rand tells her to go to Egwene, but asks that she return after, at least to be with him when he goes to Shayol Ghul; if he is to use Callandor, he will need two women with him, and while he has not decided on the other, he definitely wants her to be one of them. She promises, feeling proud, and then asks to Delve him, hoping to do for him what she had done for Naeff.
She stiffened. The darkness was enormous, covering the entirety of his mind. Thousands upon thousands of the tiny black thorns pricked into his brain, but beneath them was a brilliant white lacing of something. A white radiance, like liquid Power. Light given form and life. She gasped. It coated each of the dark tines, driving into his mind alongside them. What did it mean?
She retreats, and apologizes that she cannot Heal him. Rand is deeply impressed to learn what she did with Naeff, and tells her even the most Talented Healers in the Age of Legends did not believe possible what she had just done. Nynaeve promises to Heal the other Asha’man before she goes, but is not sure she can go to the Black Tower. Rand tells her not to do that, as “something’s happening” there. Nynaeve hugs him in farewell, feeling foolish.
Egwene stands on the top of the White Tower, reflecting that the clouds had returned, and the tea was back to tasting stale again. She remembers the saying: The Land is One with the Dragon. Saerin, Yukiri and Seaine are with her, and she asks how their search is going. Seaine says there may be no way to discover how Mesaana defeated the Oath Rod, since even though the Aes Sedai have been using it for millennia they still do not entirely understand how it works; there may be a very simple way to bypass it that they just don’t know about. She has three theories, though: (a) there is another Oath Rod, and Mesaana managed to unswear the Oaths on it in between swearing on the main Oath Rod and declaring she is not a Darkfriend; (b) she sent a double, cloaked in the Mirror of Mists and under Compulsion, to take the Oaths in her place; or (c) they have discovered weaves that altered sound, so possibly Mesaana could have arranged it so that they all heard her giving the Oaths when in reality she was saying something completely different.
Egwene gritted her teeth. She’d assumed that defeating the Oath Rod would be difficult. And yet here was a simple weave capable of the feat. She should have known—never use a boulder when a pebble will do, as her mother had often said.
Egwene points out that Black Ajah could have been using this for years, then, but Saerin counters that none of the Black sisters they’d captured knew of it, so likely it was something only Mesaana had known before now. Egwene is leery of the proposition to make all the sisters swear the Oaths again, to check for this weave, but Yukiri opines that it might be worth it to catch a Forsaken. Egwene doesn’t think it will be that easy, and asks Saerin what she has unearthed about Mesaana herself. Saerin says there isn’t much; she mentions the accounts of the “schools” she ran in lands conquered by the Shadow during the War of Power, and how Mesaana had turned when she been thwarted in her desire to become a researcher. She was supposedly the leader of the Aes Sedai on the Shadow’s side in battle, and something of a “realist” among the Forsaken, capable, organized, and willing to get her own hands dirty, unlike Moghedien or Graendal.
“The only other thing I could find of relevance, Mother,” Saerin said, “was a curious reference from the Blue scholar Lannis, who indicated that Mesaana was second only to Demandred in sheer anger.”
Egwene frowned. “I’d assume that all of the Forsaken are full of hate.”
“Not hate,” Saerin said. “Anger. Lannis thought Mesaana was angry—at herself, at the world, at the other Forsaken—because she wasn’t one of those at the forefront. That could make her very dangerous.”
Egwene reflects that perhaps this is why Mesaana has stayed on in the Tower even after her original scheme failed: the need to bring some great victory to the Dark One to offset her failures. She considers that her own death would possibly achieve that very well, and wondered whether she dared use herself as bait again when so many people needed her.
If what Saerin said was true, then the woman would be willing to fight directly—she wouldn’t hide and poke from the shadows. Egwene’s task, then, was to tempt her with an opportunity, one that didn’t seem obvious, one she couldn’t resist.
“Come,” Egwene said, walking toward the ramp back down into the Tower. “I have some preparations to make.”
YAY AWESOME NYNAEVEISHNESS
Wow, that is really not a word. And yet, I stand by it, because when I first read this I didn’t even realize how much I had missed the days of Awesome Nynaeveishness until they came back again. I think the last time was in ACOS or thereabouts, though there may be an incident of Nynaeve being Awesome since then that I am currently forgetting. But even so, it’s been a while and my point stands.
Healing madness would be impressive no matter what, but Rand’s comment to the effect that even Healers in the Age of Legends probably wouldn’t have been able to pull it off just makes it that much cooler. Sometimes it may be tempting to rag on Nynaeve for her lack of impulse control (like with the dust cloud in this chapter, for instance), but it has to be admitted that most if not all of her most awesome achievements (defeating Moghedien, Healing severing, breaking her block) have been a result of her flinging herself in headfirst and damn the consequences. It’s the kind of thing that we all tell ourselves we’re against in principle but secretly love to see in our heroes. (Don’t click that.)
I also loved Rand and Nynaeve’s interaction in this chapter (she gave him a hug! AWWWW) even as I was disturbed by what Nynaeve found when she Delved Rand. Even though on reflection, I was kind of like, “Yeah, I don’t know exactly what is going on there, but it sounds about right.”
That’s in hindsight, of course. The lack of a real POV from Rand in this book makes it more speculation than it might otherwise be, but this is the first real indication since the end of TGS that New Zen Master Rand has not, in fact, defeated his demons (pun, er, probably not really a pun) so much as he has fought them into a Mexican standoff of sorts. In his brain. Which is pretty wacky.
And which also implies that calling him Jesus Rand isn’t exactly accurate, but as I am easily amused I continue to use it anyway. And hey, even the actual Jesus had that whole episode in the desert. And we know that however much equilibrium Rand may have regained since going to the mountain (yup), he still has at least one very major temptation to deal with, i.e. the True Power. So, he’s gotten better, but it ain’t over by a long shot, I think is the point here.
Re: bubble of evil: I’m a little skeptical that Nynaeve didn’t realize that such fine dust would be so flammable. Surely anyone who grew up in an agrarian culture would be aware of the danger of dust explosions, which can occur in pretty much any finely powdered substance, including milled flour, grain and sawdust? If it can happen in an ordinary mill or granary, why on earth would you think Evil Dust™ would be any less volatile? *shrug*
The other thought I had while reading that bit was to be a little appalled that Nynaeve and Naeff were just blasting the corpses of all these poor people apart without even attempting to identify them first – for the sakes of the victims’ families, if no other reason – but on reflection I suppose it probably wouldn’t have been very practical, given the circumstances and time constraints. And Nynaeve did make a point of sticking around to comfort who she could, so that’s something, anyway.
As for Egwene’s scene, the only thing I really found interesting about it was the description of Mesaana as a sort of Dark Side Amyrlin, which made for some nice parallels. I’m not a hundred percent convinced, though, that the contention that she is a “hands on” go-getter type really matches up with the weapons-grade lurking she has been doing since… well, since forever, basically. I mean, yes, she’s more direct than Graendal and Moghedien, but that’s sort of like saying a wet sponge is less squashy than a bowl of Jello, if you know what I mean. Sure, it’s true, but only in the most misleading way possible, in my opinion.
The Oath Rod thing, I really don’t care about. Especially since this scene makes it clear that how Mesaana actually got around it hardly even matters; Egwene says flat out that the only important thing is that she did, and they can assume she can continue to do so. In fact I don’t think we ever find out how Mesaana actually did it at all, though I could be wrong about that. So, clearly, whatever.
“The Blue scholar Lannis”: shoutout? Shoutout! Whee! Go Leslie!
I’m sure there are more shoutouts I am missing, by the way – I’m only mentioning the ones I know for sure are there. If there are others I missed feel free to point them out in the comments.
(Which reminds me, “tomfeltes” confirmed in the comments to the last post that Word of God says “Leeh” in Chapter 13 was indeed my very own personal shoutout, so that is super double plus awesomecakes. My shoutout! Mine! MINE!)
Chapter 16: Shanna’har
Faile walks the camp, thinking of Perrin’s attempts to set a second parley with the Whitecloaks and her choice words to him for sneaking off without her the first time. She also reflects that she will have to deal with Berelain soon, and shocks herself by wishing she could ask her mother for advice. She thinks of how essential all the things her mother had taught her had been to her these past two years, and realizes ruefully how immature and irresponsible it had been of her to run away from home.
She was glad she’d left and met Perrin, but that didn’t excuse her actions. With a grimace, she remembered forcing Perrin to travel the Ways in the darkness, alone. She didn’t even recall what he’d done to set her off, though she’d never admit that to him.
Her mother had once called her spoiled, and she’d been right.
[…] Light bless you, Mother, Faile thought. What would she, or Perrin, have done without that training? Without her mother’s teachings, Faile would have been useless.
She visits the quartermaster and artfully manages to warn him to curb his doctoring of the books without accusing him of anything outright, using Perrin’s reputation for his temper when his people are wronged as an incentive. She then heads to meet with Perrin, reflecting that her mother had warned her what would be expected of her in married life, but hadn’t mentioned how fulfilling it could be.
Perrin waits on a hilltop a little ways off from the camp, searching for wolves, but there are none in the vicinity. Faile arrives and comments that he looks concerned, and Perrin tells her that his failures as a leader continue to pile up, and he doesn’t understand why anyone follows him. Faile asks why he continues to fight the notion that he is a good leader, and Perrin points out that while he was willing to give himself up for the Cauthons and the Luhhans in the Two Rivers, he is no longer willing to do the same for Basel Gill et al, which he thinks makes him callous.
“It’s not callous,” Faile said, “or selfish. You’re a lord now, and you can’t let it be known that capturing your subjects will undermine your rule. Do you think Queen Morgase would abdicate to tyrants who kidnapped her subjects? No leader could rule that way. Your inability to stop evil men does not make you evil yourself.”
Perrin just wants to go back to what he was after this is over, be a blacksmith in a village somewhere, but then considers whether Faile could ever be a balcksmith’s wife. Faile tells him she would go if he wanted her to, but asks if he is sure that’s what he really wants, to leave the Two Rivers without a lord. Perrin tries to convince himself that they would pick someone better to be their lord if he left, but feels surprisingly upset at the notion of someone else taking over and possibly mucking it up. Faile changes the subject by announcing they have other plans for this evening, and summons servants to the hill to start laying out a lovely dinner spread. Perrin is confused, and Faile explains that it is their first shanna’har, or wedding anniversary. She explains in Saldaea this would normally last a month, but they will probably not have time for more than this evening. Perrin initially protests the idea of feasting when “the world itself may die.”
“If the world itself is going to die,” Faile said, “is this not the time when a man must take time to appreciate what he has? Before it is all taken?”
Perrin hesitates, but agrees, and Faile explains that the notion to have the celebration outside came from Tam al’Thor, and this is her attempt to combine the Saldaean tradition with the Two Rivers one. They eat, and Perrin is mortified when she observes his enthusiasm over the meat and comments that there is “much of the wolf” in him. Perrin freezes, and counters that there is too much of it in him, but Faile disagrees. Perrin hesitates, and confesses to her his belief that he’d acted entirely inappropriately during her captivity. Faile says she’d heard about what he did, and opines that he did what he had to do.
“I’d have gone much farther,” Perrin admitted. “Hating myself all the way. You spoke of a lord being strong enough to resist letting himself be manipulated. Well, I’ll never be that strong. Not if you’re taken.”
“We shall have to make certain I don’t get taken.”
“It could ruin me, Faile,” he said softly. “Anything else, I think I could handle. But if you are used against me, nothing will matter. I’d do anything to protect you, Faile. Anything.”
“Perhaps you should wrap me up in soft cloth, then,” she said dryly, “and tuck me away in a locked room.” Oddly, her scent was not offended.
“I wouldn’t do that,” Perrin said. “You know I wouldn’t. But this means I have a weakness, a terrible one. The type a leader can’t have.”
Faile snorts, and tells him stories of various great kings and queens of Saldaea, and their sometimes flagrant personal flaws or weaknesses, and how they were considered great leaders anyway. She says that Perrin claims that he was a terrible leader while Faile was captured, but she sees that he kept his people focused and inspired. Perrin comments that Berelain had a lot to do with that, and tries to say more, but Faile assures him that she will deal with Berelain. She tells him he is driven and dedicated, and these are wonderful traits for a leader to have, and she doesn’t understand why he had the banners burned.
She smelled curious, almost desperately so.
I can’t lead them, he thought. Not until I know if I can master the wolf. How could he explain? Explain that he feared the way it took control when he fought, when he wanted something too badly?
He would not rid himself of the wolves; they had become too much a part of him. But where would he leave his people, where would he leave Faile, if he lost himself to what was inside of him?
Perrin then tells Faile the entire story, from Shadar Logoth to Elyas to his first encounter with the Whitecloaks to Noam to Hopper to how he felt in battle, and his frenzy when searching for her. He feels relief to finally tell her the whole truth. Afterwards, she thanks him, and in return tells him about Malden and what she had gone through there. Perrin thinks she has left some things out, probably about the Brotherless Aiel who had captured her, but decides he doesn’t mind, and that the man had still deserved his death even if he was kind to Faile. He comments that he is surprised she wasn’t angry at him for ruining her own escape plans; Faile says she’d considered having a “proper” argument and reconciliation over it with him, but decided this night should be in Two Rivers fashion.
“And you think husbands and wives don’t argue in the Two Rivers?” he asked, amused.
“Well, perhaps they do. But you, husband, always seem uncomfortable when we yell. I’m very glad you’ve begun to stand up for yourself, as is proper. But I have asked much from you to adapt to my ways. I thought, tonight, I would try to adapt to yours.”
Perrin hugs her, and apologizes for not considering she would escape on her own, and she forgives him. He asks if that means they can skip to the reconciliation, and she smiles and says she can allow it this once. He kisses her, and reflects that the awkwardness they’d had between them since Malden was now gone.
He had Faile back, truly and completely.
So this chapter could be called The One Where Faile ‘N Perrin Straighten Out Their Shit, and other than rather stripping all of the romance out of it would be perfectly accurate to say. And as usual in WOT, the hallmark of significant progression of any kind in a relationship between characters (romantic or otherwise) is the (usually horrifically belated) application of actual real honesty.
This is, once again, one of the most consistently major themes in the series, which is that true candidness from Lightside characters is always (a) exceedingly rare, but (b) effusively rewarded once it finally happens. You’d think Our Heroes would catch on to the formula at some point, heh.
Anyway, lots and lots of honesty going on in this chapter, all of it highly appreciated by me. I love that Faile totally calls herself on what an immature brat she was back when we first met her, because boy howdy do I agree. And while she may be a tad bit self-congratulatory on how she has Grown As A Person since then, she’s also not wrong, at least not in my opinion. Her foregoing of The Yelling at the end of the chapter (not to mention her actual recognition of the fact that the fight-and-make-up thing is actually a specific Saldaean cultural thing and not a universal truth of marriages) is enough by itself to prove that.
(And I note that she makes specific mention of A Certain Incident that happened back in TSR, which I have to confess made me snort out loud when I first read it. Not that I think that was any kind of shoutout or anything, but I snorted anyway, because at least that proves I wasn’t the only one who found that particular interlude – memorable, shall we say.)
Anyway. Of course, while Faile and Perrin’s marital issues are (more or less) resolved in this chapter, we do not make nearly as much headway with Perrin’s leadership and/or wolfy issues. I do note, however, that Faile’s very reasoned explanation here of how no leader, no matter how exalted, is a flawless human being like Perrin seems to think a leader must be (and very diplomatically did not tack on the “you moron” I might have felt compelled to add in her place) was perhaps the first time Perrin actually seemed to listen when someone told him he was a good leader. Not believe, of course, not yet, but progress is progress. At this point I am certainly not in the mood to look a gift sense-talking in the mouth.
There are a lot of really good thoughts in here, in fact, about leadership and what it should and should not entail, mostly from Faile, but I think I’m going to save those to talk about another time. Mostly, this chapter is about their relationship, and while I still have some residual issues with Perrin and Faile that are probably never going to go away entirely, the forward motion their reconciliation indicates is far too pleasing for me to get too twisted up about it.
So, yay for post-escape-and-or-rescue snuggles, and Doublemint Yay for Awesome Nynaeveishness, right right? Right! Have a week, kiddies, and I’ll see you next Tuesday!