The Wheel of Time Reread

The Wheel of Time Re-read: The Fires of Heaven, Part 3

All righty then! It is time for more Wheel of Time–Re-read, that is. Today we are covering Chapters 4-5 of The Fires of Heaven, yah, for sure.

Previous entries are where they always are, and you are warned about spoilers for all currently published novels in the Wheel of Time series, as you always are. Because wherever you go, there you are. Or something. Hey, don’t look at me, I didn’t make this stuff up.


Anyway. Please click on through to see me show all the ways in which I slept through philosophy and civics!

Chapter 4: Twilight

What Happens
With his escort, Rand walks inside the Rhuidean Roof of the Maidens, even though men are not allowed inside unless they are gai’shain. Inside there are Maidens all over, playing games or chatting or tending weapons, and they all smile at him, some patting his shoulder and asking if he was hungry or if he needed anything. Rand smiles back and answers briefly, but doesn’t slow down, knowing that if he did he would be down there for hours.

Far Dareis Mai had adopted him, after a fashion. Some treated him as a son, others as a brother. Age seemed not to come into it; women with white in their hair might talk to him as a brother over tea, while Maidens no more than a year older than he tried to make sure he wore the proper clothes for the heat. There was no avoiding the mothering; they simply did it, and he could not see how to make them stop, short of using the Power against the whole lot of them.

He sees no way out of the situation without deeply offending the Maidens’ honor, and thinks that at least they mostly limited the mothering to when they were under the Roof, with no one else to see except gai’shain who knew better than to say anything. He climbs up the various levels, answering more inquiries about his health, nodding and smiling, and finally reaches the lowest empty level, where his bedroom was, and sighs in relief. He lies down fully dressed, trying to ignore the cold; Asmodean had tried to show him a simple way to heat a room, but the one time Rand had tried it he had almost cooked himself alive in his sleep. He thinks of how this building hadn’t been the Roof of the Maidens when he chose it; he had simply woken up one day to find that the Maidens had moved in, yet expected him to stay. He had managed to convince them not to stay on the same floor, at least, which had amused them greatly. He thinks about Moiraine and how easily she had gotten under his skin, and wonders when his temper got so bad; he doesn’t think he used to get angry this easily. He hadn’t meant her to learn about his plans until he was ready to move, and thinks that it’s sad that he cares less about Asmodean, a Forsaken, learning about his plans than he does Moiraine.

Asmodean. If his bonds to the Dark One had shielded him from the taint on saidin, there had to be another way to do it. Or to cleanse it.

Then he tells himself he’s being foolish; he had an appointment at Shayol Ghul, and after that going mad would hardly matter. Aviendha enters, to his surprise, holding a bundle of blankets. He suppresses a stab of jealousy at the silver necklace she wears, wondering who gave it to her, and says that he hasn’t seen her in ten days; he’d have thought the Wise Ones would tie her to his arm once they found out he could block them from his dreams. Aviendha answers that she has her own training to do, and that Amys et al were not happy, either at what he had done or that Aviendha had let slip about the matter to him.

He stared at her. “You told them? But you didn’t really say anything. I figured it out myself, and I would have eventually even if you hadn’t let a hint slip out. Aviendha, they told me they could speak to people in their dreams. It was only a step from that.”

She glares, and asks if he would have her dishonor herself further, and throws the blankets at him, saying she should have let him freeze. Rand tries to think of what to say, because despite how prickly she is, she is comforting to have around, mainly because she never seems wary of him, like everyone else does, even Moiraine. He had missed her, and sent her flowers half a dozen times, but she had never acknowledged them. Finally he thanks her for the blankets, figuring that was a safe topic. She shakes the ivory bracelet at him and says that it was not a regard gift, and so this has no meaning either, and tosses something at him, saying it cancels the debt between them. Rand examines it to see it is a belt buckle made of steel with gold inlay in the shape of a dragon. He thanks her, and says there is no debt to cancel, but she returns that if he will not take it against her debt then he should throw it away. She tells him when she gave up her spears, they were melted down and made into things to give away; the Wise Ones made her name the three men and three women she hates the most, and give them each a gift made from her weapons. Rand asks sadly if he is one of the ones she hates.

“Yes, Rand al’Thor.” She suddenly sounded hoarse. For a moment she turned her face away, eyes shut and quivering. “I hate you with all of my heart. I do. And I always will.”

Rand offers again to have someone else teach him, then, and Aviendha rejects this fiercely, saying that she has toh to Elayne to watch him for her, and tells him again that he belongs to Elayne and no one else. Rand gets angry, and tells her that he kissed Elayne a few times, and thinks she enjoyed it as much as he did, but that does not make them betrothed, and he’s not even sure she still has feelings for him. He’s working himself into a full tirade when the door opens and Isendre comes in, carrying a wine jug and two cups. She’s wearing a head scarf, a ton of jewelry, and nothing else. Rand groans at the astronomically bad timing, and Aviendha looks murderous. She asks if someone sent her with that, and, terrified, Isendre whispers no; Aviendha says she was warned about this, and Isendre looks like she is about to faint. Rand tries to intervene on Isendre’s behalf, but lets it go when Aviendha tells him not to meddle in Far Dareis Mai affairs more than he already has, referring to how he stopped them from sending Isendre out to die in the Waste after being caught with all the stolen jewelry. He knows he should not feel any sympathy for Isendre, being a Darkfriend, but he can’t help it.

Once he had killed a woman; a woman who meant to kill him, but the memory still burned. He did not think he would ever be able to do it again, even with his life in the balance. A foolish thing, with female Forsaken likely seeking his blood or worse, but there it was. And if he could not kill a woman, how could he stand by and let a woman die? Even if she deserved it?

The problem is, Rand thinks, that he cannot expose either Isendre or Kadere for what they are because that would lead suspicion right to their former comrade Natael, and Rand can’t allow his teacher to be taken from him. Worse, Rand has no idea how to resolve the situation. Aviendha tells Isendre to leave the wine and go to the Maidens and tell them what she has done. As soon as Isendre leaves, Aviendha rounds on Rand and says he has no right to lure any woman who isn’t Elayne, but particularly not that one. Rand is astounded, and tries to tell her that he wouldn’t go after Isendre if she were the last woman on earth, but Aviendha counters that the woman has tried seven times to get to Rand, despite severe punishment, and there’s no way she would persist like that unless he was encouraging her. Aviendha stalks out; bemused, Rand puts the wine in a corner, having no intention of drinking anything Isendre had touched, and lies down to sleep. He touches the half-healed wound in his side, and thinks that that is what will kill him on the rocks at Shayol Ghul, he was sure of it, and then tells himself not to think of it tonight. He soon falls asleep, protected by his shield, and dreams of Aviendha, Min, and Elayne.

Only Elayne had ever looked at him as a man, but all three saw him as who he was, not what he was. Aside from the nightmare, they were all pleasant dreams.

Well, if y’all were hoping for me to lay off the gender issues, this is the wrong post for it, because this chapter is nothing but that topic.

I don’t know who Rand thinks he’s kidding re: Aviendha. I’m sorry, honey, but guys don’t send a girl flowers, multiple times, unless he’s interested in her That Way. Seriously, dude, own it already.

I’m also really kind of curious at the unity the Maidens display over how they regard/treat Rand, considering that the situation by definition is unprecedented and thus could not possibly be covered by standard Aiel tradition. Did they all have a town hall meeting, or something? Actually, they probably did.

Here’s something I realized, reading this chapter. The more I look at Jordan’s pattern of male-female interactions, the more I notice a common trend: in almost every situation, both in a macro sense and individually, women act as the control group.

Go with me here, this is stream of consciousness. I’m like Faulkner, except I use punctuation!

“Control group” may not be precisely the right term for what I’m trying to say here, but it’s what I’ve got at the moment, so we’ll go with it. Certainly it seems to fit in an overall sense; if you look at the Dark One’s tainting of saidin as a kind of (really cruel) scientific experiment, you see an effect introduced into one segment of the channeling population, namely men, which is not introduced into the other segment, women. (And then you sit back and see what happens!) In that sense women are literally the control group, in the traditional sense the term is generally meant – as long as you leave out the fact that the control group is supposed to be as statistically identical to the experimented-upon group as possible, of course. Look, I’m just making this up as I go, bear with me.

On an individual level, though, I mean it in a less specific sense, or maybe just a less accurate one. If you look at Rand’s interactions with women, in particular, in almost every case – the Supergirls, Aviendha/Min/Elayne, the Maidens, the Wise Ones, even Moiraine – to varying degrees they all act as normalizing influences against all the extremely non-normal crap that happens to him.

In other words, where he’s crazy, they remind him to be sane; where he’s ostracized and/or exalted, they treat him as just this guy, who’d better not get a swelled head if he knows what’s good for him. And as annoying or frustrating as the major female characters’ determined refusal to treat Rand as Super Special Hero Savior Guy is (and I do find it frustrating, often), I think it’s obvious that Jordan’s intent is to show that this is pretty much one of the main factors that keeps him from going off the deep end over the course of the series, into either megalomania, suicidal depression, or just plain old-fashioned insanity. Because let’s be honest, there’s plenty enough going on to drive a guy crazy even without the taint putting its greasy fingers in the mix.

Rand himself notes this, both in this chapter and elsewhere; it’s the primary (one might say, meanly, the only) factor in his attraction to Min/Elayne/Aviendha in the first place, that they look at him and see, not the Dragon Reborn, but Rand al’Thor.

One might even say that which side of this line the female characters fall upon – regarding Rand as Rand, or Rand as terrifying Savior/Destroyer figure, is the main dividing line between the women in WOT whom we root for, and those whom we wish would get sent to the World Without Shrimp forever and ever.

Case in point: Siuan and Elaida. Siuan was (and is) scared of Rand, yes, but she made the decision in TGH to treat him as a person rather than as an abstract icon, and let him “run wild”, as Elaida disgustedly puts it, to forge his own destiny. With ham-handed guidance attached as a rider, true, but still. Elaida, by contrast – well, you remember the speech she made in the Prologue; that pretty much sums it up, there. To her, Rand is not a person but a tool, and this informs her every (disastrous) decision from the coup onwards.

The male characters (I continue to theorize wildly and stream-of-consciously), on the other hand, don’t seem to necessarily need or care about that line to decide what side they fall on. Mat, for instance, is scared shitless of Rand, and most definitely sees him as the terrifying Savior/Destroyer, but this is not – well, actually now that I think about it Mat is not the best example; he sticks around because of the ta’veren thing, which is about the same as saying that he sticks to Rand the same way iron filings stick to magnets. The way the iron feels about the situation is not really at issue. (Whether Mat would stick around were the ta’veren factor removed is a different matter; I believe he would, but then I’m an unapologetic Mat fan, so I may be biased.)

A better example than Mat, I think, is Davram Bashere, in LOC, who more or less flat out tells Rand he thinks Rand’s probably barmier than a bucket of bananas, but that this is largely irrelevant to the choice Bashere made to stick with him.

Um. I had a point here… My point is, Jordan seems in my opinion to differentiate the way his female characters make decisions re: Rand from the way the male ones do, and while I don’t think he’s necessarily trying to say one is better than the other in a general sense, the way the women do it seems to result in either great benefit to him (keeping his head screwed on straight, and also, nookie), or the worst shit that happens to him in the entire series (getting locked in a box and beaten repeatedly). But it’s how they relate to him as a person that is the vital factor.

I seem to have wandered away from my original thesis, here. Well, a scholarly dissertation this is decidedly not; I’m basically just telling you guys what’s going through my head. I guess the question here is whether this is an accurate representation of the differences in how women make personal and/or moral decisions in the real world, as opposed to men. Or if there aren’t any, and this is just a narrative device writ large. Or, I’m imagining the whole thing and have been totally talking out of my butt. You decide, I’m kind of exhausted now.

Chapter 5: Among the Wise Ones

What Happens
Egwene washes herself in her tent, feeling guilty for heating the water with saidar and lecturing herself that she should have more discipline. A gai’shain enters and tells her she is summoned to the sweat tent; Egwene inwardly curses Bair’s stubbornness, which keeps the Wise Ones in tents outside the city instead of living in Rhuidean like everyone else. She bets herself that Rand isn’t sleeping cold. She tries to talk to the gai’shain, Cowinde, and quickly realizes that she is one of those who has made her peace with the bleakness by refusing to put off the white when her time is up. She follows Cowinde to the sweat tent, shivering in the cold, and ducks inside to find Bair, Amys, Melaine, Aviendha, and Moiraine inside. She sees with shock that Aviendha has been switched recently, even though Aviendha was regularly held up to her by the Wise Ones as a model of obedience. Bair chastises her for being late, and compares her to Aviendha again, which Egwene sees makes Aviendha look thoughtful. Egwene apologizes as meekly as she can, and Melaine picks up an obviously interrupted conversation, telling Moiraine that the Wise Ones follow the Car’a’carn, not the White Tower. Egwene thinks they are talking about the inevitable recruiting parties the Tower will send to the Waste now that they know about the channeling Wise Ones; she doesn’t worry overmuch about Aes Sedai being able to bully them, but as the conversation continues realizes that Moiraine is trying to convince them that Rand leading the Aiel across the Dragonwall is a bad idea. The Wise Ones are not concerned, and Amys tells Moiraine that the White Tower’s plans are not theirs. They must do what is best for the Aiel. Moiraine believes it will be as much a disaster for the Aiel as for the wetlanders, but Melaine tells her that it does not matter much if Rand does his prophesied breaking of the Aiel on this side of the Dragonwall or on the other, and Bair unsubtly dismisses Moiraine. Moiraine coolly tells them that she has other matters to attend to, and leaves. Aviendha leaves the tent to brew tea, and Egwene asks Bair if she has done something wrong.

“You mean her stripes?” she said in a normal voice. “She came to me and said she had lied twice today, though she would not say to whom or about what. It was her own affair, of course, so long as she did not lie to a Wise One, but she claimed her honor required that a toh must be met.”

Egwene is astounded, and thinks the Aiel are all crazy when it comes to ji’e’toh. Bair changes the subject, and remarks that there are a great number of Lost Ones in the Waste, fleeing the troubles in the wetlands, no doubt, and Amys says she has heard that some of those who have run from the bleakness have gone to them and asked to be taken in, which produces a long silence. Then they start talking about Rand, and how he is changing everything: Rhuidean, the bleakness, even the Maidens, who have let a man beneath their roof for the first time ever. Melaine complains that Bael will not tell her what he says to Rand al’Thor, or vice versa, and that she would like to thump him with a stick. Bair and Amys laugh.

“There are only three things you can do with a man like that,” Bair chortled. “Stay away from him, kill him, or marry him.”

Melaine goes brick-red, but then Aviendha reenters with tea. They settle for a while, and then Amys asks Egwene how Rand al’Thor would take it if Aviendha asked to sleep in his chamber. Aviendha freezes, and Egwene gasps that they could not possibly ask her to do such a thing. Bair tells her they don’t mean for Aviendha to share his blankets, but would he take it that way, if she asked? Egwene doesn’t think so, but insists that it is completely improper. Aviendha asks that they not require this of her, and then flat-out refuses, but the Wise Ones shoot down all her arguments, even the one about her honor.

“The Pattern does not see ji’e’toh,” Bair told her, with only a hint of sympathy, if that. “Only what must and will be. Men and Maidens struggle against fate even when it is clear the Pattern weaves on despite their struggles, but you are no longer Far Dareis Mai. You must learn to ride fate. Only by surrendering to the Pattern can you begin to have some control over the course of your own life. If you fight, the Pattern will still force you, and you will find only misery where you might have found contentment instead.”

Egwene thinks that this sounds very similar to what she learned about saidar, but says again that she thinks the notion is improper. Amys merely asks whether Rand will allow it, and Egwene says slowly that she isn’t sure; she doesn’t know him like she used to. But he might, if they gave him a good reason; he likes Aviendha. Aviendha sighs, and Bair snorts that in her day, having a pretty girl show that much interest would have been reason enough. They move on to Egwene’s lessons, and Amys asks if she’s had any success in finding Nynaeve or Elayne’s dreams. Egwene says no, and thinks of how much more difficult it is to find a person’s dreams than it is to find the Dreamworld; it is also more dangerous in a way, because in a person’s dream, they are in control of what happens. Her experience with Rhuarc’s dream had been humiliating; she was shocked to see that he regarded her as little more than a child.

And her own control had wavered for one fatal moment. After that she had been little more than a child; she still could not look at the man without remembering being given a doll for studying hard. And being as pleased with the gift as with his approval. Amys had had to come and take her away from happy play with it. Amys knowing was bad enough, but she suspected that Rhuarc remembered some of it, too.

Amys tells her to keep trying, and Egwene is reluctant, as she suspects Nynaeve’s dreams might be worse than Rhuarc’s; Amys tells her to try finding Amys’s dream tonight, and Bair makes as if to leave. Melaine stops her, though, and asks for her and Amys’s help. She wants them to approach Dorindha for her. Amys and Bair both laugh with delight, Aviendha looks startled, and Egwene is clueless, until Bair teases Melaine about saying she never wanted a husband. Melaine flushes, but says she cannot stay away from Bael and she can’t kill him either, so if Dorindha is amenable to being her sister-wife, she will take the third option. Bair teases her that he might step on the bridal wreath instead of picking it up, but Egwene doesn’t think there’s much chance of that if Dorindha decides she wants Melaine as sister-wife.

It no longer shocked her, precisely, that a man could have two wives. Not exactly. Different lands mean different customs, she reminded herself firmly. She had never been able to bring herself to ask, but for all she knew, there might be Aiel women with two husbands. They were very strange people.

Melaine asks them to ask as her first-sisters in this, and Amys and Bair’s teasing changes instantly to warm hugging and congratulations. They leave the tent arm-in-arm, giggling, and Aviendha asks Egwene if she thinks a wetlander woman would ever accept having a sister-wife. Egwene says she doesn’t think so; she adds maybe if it were a good friend, but only because she doesn’t want to seem to be denigrating Aiel customs. They finish cleaning up and exit the tent, where Bair tells Egwene that her clothes have been taken to her tent. Since Aviendha forgot the tea, and Egwene was late, they can both run around the camp fifty times without their clothes before they go back to their tents. Aviendha sets off immediately, and Egwene only hesitates a moment before following. As they run, Aviendha casually mentions how the Wise Ones are always holding Egwene up to her as an example, how she never has to have something explained twice, and she and Egwene share a giggle over this. They discuss Rand, and Egwene tries to make Aviendha understand that according to their customs Rand does not belong to Elayne, but Aviendha is stubborn; Egwene lets it go, and says that surely they can change the Wise Ones’ minds about Aviendha sleeping in Rand’s bedroom. Aviendha doesn’t understand why this upsets her so, and asks if it is because she does not trust her, or Rand. Egwene hurriedly replies that of course she trusts both of them, and tries to think of how to put it. She says she knows she does not understand ji’e’toh, but… Aviendha tells her that Egwene may not fully know ji’e’toh, but she follows it. She obeys Amys and Melaine even though she far outstrips them both in the Power. Egwene thinks that’s not the same thing at all; she’s just doing what she has to so she can learn what she needs to know.

They were coming back to where they had begun. As her foot hit the spot, Egwene said, “That’s one,” and ran on through the darkness with no one to see but Aviendha, no one to say whether she went back to her tent right then. Aviendha would not have told, but it never occurred to Egwene to stop short of the fifty.

While I have issues with any kind of rigidly enforced code of conduct on a societal level, such as the various cultural codes Jordan extrapolated ji’e’toh from, I do admit there is a certain attraction to the notion of having the rules all laid out and defined for you, so you know exactly what is what at all times. I think a great deal of the fascination Westerners in general and Americans in particular feel for cultures that have such narrowly defined social regulations is due to a certain subliminal anxiety that results from the fluidity in our own.

This is not to say we don’t have taboos and codes of conduct, because that is decidedly not the case, but in a very real way the entirety of American history has been the fight over which rules of behavior are consonant with our core ideals and which are not. As a result, things that were par for the course a hundred or fifty or even twenty years ago are all but unthinkable now. Which is a good thing, in my opinion, but I do think it produces a sense of nebulousness and ill-definition that makes many people very uncomfortable. There’s a feeling that, if any minute someone is going to come along and tell you that everything you were taught to believe is total crap, what then is the use of holding beliefs in the first place?

I think this feeling kind of misses the point, but I do understand why one might have it. Evolution is often a difficult concept to accept, even when it’s not the kind that involves monkeys.

But I digress! What this chapter is really about, of course, is Egwene. One of her core character traits, as many people besides me have already noted, is that she is an adapter par excellence; her ability to throw herself into whatever she is doing 150% is the key to her adaptability. If you can’t commit, you can’t assimilate.

That being said, I think the point of this chapter is not so much to show Egwene’s assimilation into Aiel culture, as it is to show that her basic sense of honor and dedication is already consonant with ji’e’toh to start with.

A note about dreaming: violation of privacy much? This is where I’m having a problem with my own core values, and the clash with the Aiel outlook, as it is obvious that the Aiel, or at least the Wise Ones, consider privacy to be very much a distant second – or third, or whatever – in their list of priorities. The top of the list being, as they told Moiraine, the survival of the Aiel.

Indeed, there are a lot of things that take a backseat to that objective, not just privacy, things like, oh, sovereignty of other nations (cf. Amys’s indifference to Rand’s plan to invade the wetlands) and free will in general. Aviendha, for example, has no choice but to become a Wise One, because her freedom to choose her life’s path is secondary to her people’s need for her services, in the Wise Ones’ view.

You could have hours’ worth of debate over this, especially once you throw the “survival” landmine in there. ‘Cause, yes, those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither, but does this still apply if you’re talking about the actual survival of the nation/species/planet/bookclub?

Okay, it probably still applies for the bookclub. But you see what I’m saying.

All right, I can brain no longer. Pseudo-philosophical thinkings are exhaustifying, you guys! Feel free to point out all the ways in which my learnings are suck in the comments. Or you can just complain about the shocking crimes I’m committing against the English language, like, whatevs. See you Wednesday for MOAR, try not to QQ too much till then!


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