The Wheel of Time Reread

The Wheel of Time Re-read: The Fires of Heaven, Part 15

’Allo! How are we all feeling this fine middle of the week? Ready for a spot of Wheel of Time Re-read? Brilliant!

Today we cover Chapters 36-38 of The Fires of Heaven, which features unexpected frankness, improbable feats of daring and cleavage, and DIRTY DIRTY LANGUAGE. Dun!

Previous entries can be found here. Please note that this and all other posts contain spoilers for all currently published novels in the Wheel of Time series, so if you haven’t read, don’t read.

At this time I would also like to gently remind all y’all that differing opinions and healthy debate in the comments are extremely welcome, but ad hominem attacks and rabid frothing at the mouth are, well, not. Please remember to play nice with others, or you will be asked to leave.

And now, the post!

Chapter 36: A New Name

What Happens
Elayne watches Birgitte sleep; at one point she calls out for Gaidal. Nynaeve comes back in after an hour with tear streaks on her face and tells Elayne she will take over. Elayne decides to go outside in turn, and joins Thom and Juilin by the fire. Juilin hands her a silver arrow, saying it dropped to the ground where “she” had appeared.

“Distinctive,” Thom said conversationally around his pipe. “And added to the braid… Every story mentions the braid for some reason. Though I’ve found some I think might be her under other names, without it. And some under other names with.”

Juilin asks what she and Nynaeve have gotten them into, and Elayne, still bound by her promise to Birgitte, replies only that she is a friend who has been helping them; the men exchange glances but do not press. She asks why they didn’t give this to Nynaeve, and Thom tells her in disbelief that Nynaeve had actually cried on his shoulder, and apologized for every cross thing she ever said to him, and called herself a coward and a fool; Juilin comments that he saw a woman who had accidentally killed her husband behave like this, and later she hanged herself. Both of them urge her to do something about Nynaeve, as they are at a loss. Elayne tells them she will do what she can.

They were good men, and she did not like lying to them, or hiding things from them. Not unless it was absolutely necessary, anyway. Nynaeve claimed that you had to manage men for their own good, but there was such a thing as taking it too far. It was not right to lead a man into dangers he knew nothing of.

Elayne tells them almost everything about the Dreamworld, the Forsaken, and Moghedien, though she leaves out Birgitte’s identity and a few other details, and makes it clear to them that not only is Moghedien hunting for them, but they are hunting her as well, and tells them that the choice to stay or go is theirs. Thom says gruffly that he hasn’t taught her nearly enough of what she needs to know to be a good queen, and Elayne kisses his cheek in thanks. Juilin says Rand al’Thor will have his “guts for fish bait” if he doesn’t hand Elayne back to him in one piece.

Elayne lifted her chin. “I will not have you stay for Rand al’Thor, Juilin.” Hand her back? Indeed! “You will stay only if you want to.”

She adds that they are not released from their promise to do as they are told, either, and if Juilin doesn’t care for those terms he can take Skulker and leave. Juilin indignantly replies that he’s never abandoned a woman in danger in his life, which is not exactly the response Elayne wants, but decides it will do. She orders them to get some sleep, and overhears them flipping for first watch as soon as she leaves.

She almost went back, but found herself smiling instead. Men! It was a fond thought. Her good mood lasted until she was inside.

Nynaeve is trying to stay awake, watching Birgitte, and Elayne hides the arrow in the cupboard before the other woman sees it. She tries to put Nynaeve to bed, but Nynaeve resists until Elayne tells her flatly that she’s had enough of the self-pity, and Nynaeve is going to sleep now, or she will throw her to Cerandin for another round. Nynaeve tries to be indignant, but falls asleep too quickly. Elayne then sits down and tries to stay awake herself, but nods off and dreams of bonding Rand as her Warder until Birgitte wakes her up, looking pale but alert.

“This is not Tel’aran’rhiod.” It was not a question, but Elayne nodded, and Birgitte sank back with a long sigh. “I remember everything,” she whispered. “I am here as I am, and I remember. All is changed.”

She says Gaidal is out there somewhere, “an infant, or even a young boy”, but he will not know her. Elayne tries to reassure her that she will find him somehow, but Birgitte doesn’t think so.

“He will need me, Elayne, and I will not be there. He always has more courage than is good for him; I always must supply him with caution. Worse, he will wander, searching for me, not knowing what he is looking for, not knowing why he feels incomplete. We are always together, Elayne. Two halves of a whole.” The tears welled up, flowing across her face. “Moghedien said she would make me cry forever, and she…” Suddenly her features contorted; low ragged sobs came as if ripped from her throat.

Elayne holds her until she cries herself out; Birgitte then roughly changes the subject, asking whether Nynaeve is all right. Elayne replies that she is all right physically, but she blames herself for what happened to Birgitte. Birgitte replies to this that she does not appreciate Nynaeve taking responsibility for choices she, Birgitte, made herself. Then she frowns at Elayne.

“I can… feel you. I think I could close my eyes and point to you a mile away.”

Elayne takes a deep breath and confesses what she did, and further that she is only an Accepted, not full Aes Sedai. Birgitte thinks she might have heard of a female Warder once, long ago, but is amazed at the other, and tells Elayne the story of an Accepted named Barashelle during the Trolloc Wars who bonded a Warder the day before she was to be raised, and how it did not end well for her at all, but promises to keep Elayne’s secret, and serve her as Warder. She then tells Elayne that it is time for her to go to sleep. Elayne is indignant, but Birgitte tells her it is a Warder’s job to tell her Aes Sedai when she is pushing herself too far. The next morning Elayne is awakened by Nynaeve trampling her to get to Birgitte’s bedside to check on her, and spends the whole morning waiting hand and foot on her. They go outside as the menagerie is breaking camp and preparing to head into Samara, and Elayne remembers nervously that she is supposed to highwalk in front of people today. Luca swaggers up and gives them flak for sleeping in, and tells them to get rid of their visitor. Showing a flash of her normal self, Nynaeve glares at him and tells him off, but Luca is only concerned with outdoing his competition, and suddenly asks Birgitte if she would be willing to paint her face and get hit with a bladder. Birgitte tells him flatly that she is not a fool, but an archer. Luca sneers that he supposes she calls herself Birgitte, too.

“I am an archer, pretty man,” Birgitte broke in firmly. “Fetch a bow, and I will outshoot you or anyone you name, a hundred crowns gold to your one.”

Elayne expects Nynaeve to object, but Nynaeve only closes her eyes. Luca growls that he has no time for this, but Birgitte inquires sweetly if he is afraid, and Luca turns dark red and hisses he will get his bow. The rest of the crew gathers around as Luca returns with two bows and paces off the target, and then stares as Birgitte doubles the range and throws away most of the arrows he provided, ending with four.

Birgitte nocked an arrow, raised the bow, and loosed seemingly without pausing to aim. Elayne winced, but the steel point struck dead center in the middle of the carved white cross. Before it stopped quivering, the second brushed in beside it. Birgitte did wait a moment then, but only for the two arrows to still. A gasp rose from the onlookers as the third shaft split the first, but that was nothing to the absolute silence as the last split the other just as neatly. Once could have been chance. Twice…

Luca stares in utter shock for a moment, then suddenly throws his bow away and shrieks gleefully that it will be arrows instead of knives. Nynaeve sags against Elayne, but doesn’t say a word of protest. Luca is all for painting her bow silver and calling her Birgitte, but after a glance at Elayne, Birgitte tells him to call her Maerion, and asks if she gets a red dress too. Nynaeve looks like she might vomit.

Otherwise known as Elayne’s Chapter of Honesty.

A legitimate complaint can be made that Elayne and Nynaeve were in the wrong to keep Thom and Juilin in the dark about Moghedien. And they were in the wrong, which is why Elayne’s decision to tell them the truth in this chapter is a major step in her journey toward adulthood. One of the hallmarks of immature youth is the tendency to keep secrets for stupid reasons, most of them linked to insecurity, no matter how Nynaeve may have tried to rationalize it as something else. Also, I think there was a smidgen of imitation going on here; both Elayne and Nynaeve have been led by the example of “real” Aes Sedai, who as a matter of course rarely tell anyone anything unless absolutely necessary.

I don’t think the text is trying to defend that, either. As I’ve said before, one of the central themes of WOT is the trouble it causes when the Good Guys fail to trust each other and communicate effectively. I’m not about to try to remember every incident, so take this for what it’s worth, but offhand I can’t think of a single instance in the series in which honesty between (non-evil) characters was not rewarded positively.

As is the case here; Elayne’s fears that the men (especially Thom) would abandon them if they knew the truth prove to be unfounded. Which of course we knew, but do try to remember that it’s a lot easier to judge character’s reactions from a reader’s height, as it were, than when you’re on the ground in the middle of it.

I’ve noticed that a certain subset of the commenters have begun to get more… vehement, shall we say, in their dislike of Nynaeve. This is not new; it happens in every WOT forum I’ve ever had anything to do with. In terms of reader reaction, Nynaeve is probably the most polarizing character in the series; in fact I don’t think it would be too much of an exaggeration to say she’s one of the most polarizing characters in popular sf.

And you know, if you don’t like her, that’s fine; I obviously don’t agree, but for something this subjective Your Mileage has every right to Vary. However, I do think it is worth examining, if this is the case, why exactly that is. If the only rationalization you can come up with for your dislike is that she’s a “fucking bitch”, you may want to consider who that leads your audience to actually want to take a step back from. You may also want to consider reevaluating your objectivity vis à vis gender issues. And, possibly, your anger management skills.

(And no, this obviously does not apply to everyone who has expressed a negative opinion of Nynaeve. Think, then react. This is all I ask.)

Birgitte: besides being generally awesome and honorable and kickass and all that, I was surprised at how much her grief over Gaidal still affects me. I won’t lie, I sniffled a little bit.

Luca: Heh. Does it count as a virtue if your capitalistic self-interest overrides even your enormous ego?
Chapter 37: Performances in Samara

What Happens
Nynaeve sighs at the brassy red color they’ve dyed her hair, and realizes with a start that Birgitte is standing in the doorway of the wagon, her hair dyed black and wearing a red dress just like Nynaeve’s, except without the concealing shawl Nynaeve has wrapped over hers. Birgitte asks why she is wearing the dress if only to cover it; why not be proud of being a woman? Nynaeve swallows and obediently lowers her shawl, and Birgitte grimaces and asks what if she wanted Nynaeve to lower the neckline another inch, or paint her face like a fool, or ordered her to strip naked. Nynaeve can’t answer, and Birgitte shakes her head and tells her that this has to stop.

“I am only trying to make up for —” she began timidly, and jumped when the other woman roared.

“Make up? You are trying to make me less!”

“No. No, it is not that, truly. I am to blame — ”

“You take responsibility for my actions,” Birgitte broke in fiercely. “I chose to speak to you in Tel’aran’rhiod. I chose to help you. I chose to track Moghedien. And I chose to take you to see her. Me! Not you, Nynaeve, me! I was not your puppet, your pack hound, then, and I will not be now.”

Nynaeve stubbornly insists that it was her cowardice that kept her from doing something in time, and Birgitte is incredulous at the notion that Nynaeve is a coward. She tells Nynaeve that both of them did the best they could, and there is no blame if their best was not enough to defeat Moghedien. Nynaeve still thinks that Birgitte would not have been there at all if not for her pride, and says that if Birgitte decides to miss when she shoots at her today, she will understand. Birgitte answers dryly that she always hits what she aims for, and she will not be aiming at Nynaeve. She says she liked Nynaeve as she was, but not as she is now; most of her female friends have “tempers like snowghosts”. She could take Nynaeve as a “milk-tongued sniveling wretch” if that was what Nynaeve was, but she is not. Nynaeve is getting angry now, and Birgitte notices with a grin and continues to needle her.

“I cannot — will not — leave Elayne. That bond honors me, and I will honor it, and her. And I will not allow you to think that you make my decisions, or made them. I am myself, not an appendage to you. Now go away.”

Birgitte adds for her to be sure to “curtsy like a good girl” on her way out. Nynaeve stomps outside, and argues with herself that she has no right to be angry with Birgitte.

I thought she could do anything she wanted to you, a small voice whispered in her head. I said she could kill me, she snarled at it, not humiliate me!

Nynaeve stalks toward the menagerie’s entrance, and realizes by the guards’ idiotic grins that she still has the shawl looped around her shoulders, whereupon she glares at them and covers herself up hastily. She watches the crowd thronging the show for a bit, and is intensely annoyed to see Thom is performing in his own coat. She heads over to the highwalk platform and slips into the front row between Luca and a villainous-looking man with his head shaved except for a topknot and a patch over one eye. Luca tries to put an arm around her, and she elbows him in the ribs. Juilin comes out and does a performance on the tightrope where he pretends to be drunk, which gets a roar of approval from the crowd, and then Elayne comes bouncing out in a white sequined coat and breeches which Nynaeve thinks might be even worse than her own dress. She begins her routine, and Nynaeve holds her breath, because Elayne is not channeling a platform of Air; the risk is too great with Moghedien and the Black Ajah searching menageries for them. She had tried to convince Elayne to feign a broken ankle, but Elayne had refused, and Nynaeve yelps and clutches Luca’s arm as Elayne cartwheels across the rope. Luca doesn’t get why she’s so nervous now, considering Elayne’s done this routine a hundred times before in practice, but doesn’t miss the opportunity to put his arm around her. Elayne does more cartwheels, a handstand, and a backflip that Thom had taught her, which almost makes her fall, but she catches herself and finishes the routine to thunderous applause. The crowd mobs her as she comes down, and Nynaeve overhears the one-eyed man next to her mutter that Elayne has a face “like a bloody queen”.

“Burn me for a sheep-gutted farmer, but she’s flaming well brave enough for a bloody queen.”

Nynaeve gapes after him as he walks off, remembering where she’d met a one-eyed man with a topknot with the worst language ever, and quickly sets off after him.

The best thing about Birgitte is how she has every cause to be depressed and bitter and angry, and simply refuses to be any of those things. A less forthright character would have been sorely tempted to take out her pain on those around her, especially as Nynaeve is practically applying for it in triplicate, but it speaks volumes about Birgitte that she won’t even consider it. That’s class, y’all.

It also speaks to her relative maturity versus Elayne and Nynaeve. Actually, considering she’s lived dozens-ish of lives from her current perspective, she probably has more life experience than just about any other character in WOT, except possibly Ishamael. (The other Forsaken are just as old as Ishy, but unlike him they were asleep for most of those millennia, so.) I suppose a case might be made for Mat with his memories, as well, but the notion of applying the term “mature” to Mat makes me snort a little.

My point is, girl has been around the block a time or two, and this definitely helps with the “life wisdom” thing. Too bad Birgitte seems to go sour later, but then I can’t say it’s even an unreasonable character development; sad, yes, but not unreasonable. More on that later.

Poor Nynaeve. She just really, really sucks at groveling.

Elayne’s Cirque du Soleil debut: I am not an acrobat, nor do I play one on TV, but I find her ability to do a backflip, on a rope, after only twenty-odd days of practice… improbable. Especially considering that this is the first time she’s really done it on a rope, instead of a platform of Air. Eh.
Chapter 38: An Old Acquaintance

What Happens
Nynaeve follows the one-eyed man to the s’redit display near the entrance of the show.

“Uno?” She thought that was the right name.

His head turned to stare at her. Once she had the shawl back in place, he raised the stare to her face, but no recognition lit in his dark eye. The other, the painted red glaring one, made her a little queasy.

She says she saw him in Fal Dara, and at Toman Head, briefly; he was with… she hesitates, and finally says “with Rand.” He narrows his eye at her, and says he recognizes her flaming face; Nyna? She corrects him sharply, and he grabs her arm and starts hustling her toward the entrance. The guards there see this and start toward her, but she waves them off and yanks at Uno until he lets her go. She demands to know what he thinks he’s doing, but he only motions her to follow him; she growls and follows him till they get away from the crowd.

“What I am flaming trying to do,” he growled then, “is to take you where we can flaming well talk without you being torn to flaming bits by flaming folk trying to kiss your flaming hem when they find out you flaming know the Lord Dragon.”

He adds, doesn’t she know that half these “flaming goat-heads” think Rand is the bloody Creator? Nynaeve tells him acidly that she will thank him to moderate his language, and to tell her where they are going. Uno comments that he remembers her mouth, too, and that she was mixed up with “that blue woman”. He heads toward the city, telling her (cutting off curses every few words) that this is no place for her to be, and he can scrape up enough coin to get her to Tear. Nynaeve is amazed, and wonders what is it with men that they automatically assume women need to be looked after, and tells him she doesn’t need his money; the only thing they need is a boat going downriver.

“We? Is the blue woman with you, or the brown?” That had to be Moiraine and Verin. He was certainly being cautious.

“No. Do you remember Elayne?” He gave a blunt nod, and a mischievous impulse seized her; nothing seemed to faze the man, and he obviously expected to just take charge of her welfare. “You saw her again just now. You said she had a” — she made her voice gruff in imitation of his — “face like a bloody queen.”

He stumbles and stares at her, then starts muttering furiously about bloody queens showing their bloody legs. Nynaeve inquires if his mother never taught him to speak decently; he glares at her, and she asks what he is doing here. Uno tells her that the blue woman told them to go to Jehennah and make contact with a woman there and wait for further instructions, but the woman was dead when they got there, and then Masema started talking to people. Uno and most of the others stick with Masema because he slips them enough to eat on, though only Bartu and Nengar listen to “his trash”. He looks about to choke, and Nynaeve realizes there hadn’t been a single obscenity in this speech.

“Perhaps if you cursed only occasionally?” She sighed. “Maybe once every other sentence?” The man smiled at her so gratefully that she wanted to throw up her hands in exasperation.

She asks why Masema has money when the rest of them don’t, and Uno tells her, why, he’s the bloody Prophet. He asks if she wants to meet him, and Nynaeve realizes he means to take her literally about the cursing every other sentence. Uno tells her Masema could get her a boat if he decides that’s what he wants; for someone from the same village as the Dragon Reborn Masema would probably have a bloody boat built. Nynaeve considers the pros and cons of this notion, and Uno adds that she shouldn’t tell him she has anything to do with “that bloody island”, though, as Masema is almost as bad as the Whitecloaks about women from there. Nynaeve asks if the Whitecloaks have been causing trouble, and Uno tells her there was a woman with one of the shows who did sleight of hand, and the Whitecloaks whipped up a mob with the rumor that she was Aes Sedai; the bloody mob tore the show apart and broke the woman’s neck getting her to a noose.

His scowl matched the-red eye painted on his patch. “There’s been too many flaming hangings and beheadings, if you bloody well ask me. Bloody Masema’s as bad as the bloody Whitecloaks when it comes to finding a Darkfriend under every flaming rock.”

“Once every other sentence,” she murmured, and the man actually blushed.

Uno starts reconsidering the wisdom of taking her into town, scandalized that women aren’t safe there (an alien concept to a Shienaran), and his mother-henning decides Nynaeve. She starts marching into Samara, ignoring Uno’s growling to himself about the stubbornness of women.

I’m sorry, but the cursing every other sentence thing is HILARIOUS.

When it comes to profanity in historical or pseudo-historical contexts, you really can only go one of two ways, and Jordan obviously decided to go the non-Deadwood route.

What I mean by that: Deadwood’s avalanche of obscene dialogue was accurate in volume (Deadwood inhabitants really did curse that much) but not in actual content. Since the popular profanity of the time would strike modern viewers as quaint and innocuous, the TV show creators substituted modern obscenities to properly convey the impact the language would have had on an 1870s listener.

I am personally rather a fan of this method of being true to the spirit of historical accuracy rather than the letter of it. Another example would be the modern musical numbers in Moulin Rouge!; I thought using techno/rock to convey how the can-can would have struck a fin de siècle audience was brilliant, personally, but I admit the conceit can be rather jarring. It’s the sort of thing that you can either go with or you can’t.

Anyway, we don’t have to go with that in WOT; we have the other problem, which is having “obscenity” which we are aware is shocking to the characters, but which we are not culturally primed to have bang on our mental kneecap the way it does for them. (“Bloody” may work better on British ears, but I am under the impression that these days “bloody” rates right around a “hell” or even a “crap” level for Americans, so that’s not much of a help. Thoughts, Brits?)

Of course, this non-profane profanity does have the advantage of keeping the general FCC-compliant tone of the series, as well as allowing this scene with Uno and Nynaeve to be played entirely for comedy. Imagine substituting the word “fucking” for every “flaming” Uno utters here.

Yeah, it’s a little less “ha ha”, a little more “eesh”, isn’t it? And I say this as someone who is a cheerful proponent of profanity in general. But even I have limits.

(Besides, cursing is like pepper; used in the proper context and in the proper proportions it is a highly effective finishing touch, but too much numbs the impact and ruins the meal. Also, it is tacky.)

And we’re stopping! Be excellent to each other in commentage, and see you Friday!


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