By Grapthar’s hammer, it’s a Wheel of Time Re-read!
Today’s entry covers Chapters 5 and 6 of The Gathering Storm, in which we contemplate fortitude in the face of (a) insanity, (b) Nazis, and (c) theoretical aliens. Or robots. Or zombies. You know, just like always!
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 newest release, Towers of Midnight.
This re-read post contains spoilers for all currently published Wheel of Time novels, up to and including Book 13, Towers of Midnight. If you haven’t read, read at your own risk.
And now, the post!
Chapter 5: A Tale of Blood
Rand walks through the Saldaean camp on the manor green, trailed by his entourage, which includes Elza and Corele. He remembers how Elza had participated in his torture, but tells himself that is past and she has sworn to him. Corele has not, but he is inclined to trust her because of her efforts to save his life.
It was only because of her, Samitsu and Damer Flinn that Rand had survived. One of two wounds in Rand’s side that would not heal—a gift from Padan Fain’s cursed dagger—still lingered as a reminder of that day. The constant pain of that festering evil overlaid the equal pain of an older wound beneath, the one Rand had taken while fighting Ishamael so long ago.
Soon, one of those wounds—or perhaps both—would spill Rand’s blood onto the rocks of Shayol Ghul. He wasn’t certain if they would be what killed him or not; with the number and variety of the different factors competing to take Rand’s life, even Mat wouldn’t have known which one was the best bet.
Thinking of Mat makes Rand see him in the colors, tossing dice in front of a group of soldiers near a large road; Rand wonders where the dark-skinned woman he’d seen with Mat had gone. He makes his way to the Traveling ground, where a group of Sea Folk are emerging from a gateway. A soldier gives him a letter from Darlin while he is waiting, who is questioning his orders about the army he is gathering, and Rand wonders why no one will do as they are told. He sends the soldier back with a message for Darlin to continue recruiting, and that he will send an Asha’man when he is ready for Darlin to move. Harine approaches from the Sea Folk group, and Rand demands to know why the grain ships he asked to be sent to Arad Doman have not arrived, while the Domani starve. Harine replies that the ships must go through Seanchan-controlled waters to reach Arad Doman, and none have succeeded yet. Rand barely avoids mortally insulting her, but restrains himself at the last moment. His ta’veren nature induces Harine to be brutally honest about the punishment she had suffered for her part in their agreement, and he tries to be civil to her in return. He makes a deal with her, to exchange answers to a question each, and asks how Sea Folk treat men who can channel. Harine tells him they either drown themselves or are abandoned to starve on a deserted isle. Rand tells her saidin is cleansed now, and this practice must stop; Harine is clearly skeptical, and Rand is angered that no one will believe him.
Men who could channel were always distrusted. Yet they were the only ones who could confirm what Rand said! He’d imagined joy and wonder at the victory, but he should have known better. Though male Aes Sedai had once been as respected as their female counterparts, that had been long ago. The days of Jorlen Corbesan had been lost in time. All people could remember now was the Breaking and the Madness.
Rand freezes as he realizes that his memories of Jorlen Corbesan are Lews Therin’s, not his own.
Oh, Light, Rand thought with despair. I’m losing myself. Losing myself in him.
The most terrifying part was that Rand could no longer make himself wish to banish Lews Therin. Lews Therin had known a way to seal the Bore, if imperfectly, but Rand had no idea how to approach the task. The safety of the world might depend on the memories of a dead madman.
Rand realizes by the stares of everyone else that he has been muttering to himself again, and asks stiffly what Harine’s question is of him; she says she will ask it later. Damer Flinn comes through the gateway, smiling at Corele, who advises him not to mind Rand’s surliness and ignores Rand’s glare. Rand asks Elza what she thinks about Harine’s reaction to the news about the taint; Elza gives a carefully noncommittal answer, but Corele interjects that she is convinced he is telling the truth, after having channeled saidin through Damer. Elza points out, though, that that will not do much to convince anyone who hasn’t. Rand grits his teeth, and wonders if all he will leave behind is wars and devastation as bad as the Breaking.
He hadn’t been able to help that last time, for his madness and grief at Ilyena’s death had consumed him. Could he prevent something similar this time? Did he have a choice?
He was ta’veren. The Pattern bent and shaped around him. And yet, he had quickly learned one thing from being a king: the more authority you gained, the less control you had over your life. Duty was truly heavier than a mountain; it forced his hand as often as the prophecies did. Or were they both one and the same? Duty and prophecy? His nature as a ta’veren and his place in history? Could he change his life? Could he leave the world better for his passing, rather than leaving the nations scarred, torn and bleeding?
He comments to Flinn that he envies the soldiers and people of the camp their freedom. Confused, Flinn counters that Rand is the most powerful man alive, but Rand replies that all his power is meaningless against fate; he is much less free than anyone else. He remembers Moiraine’s words that they all do as they must, and thinks to her that he is trying. A scout approaches to report that Aiel are approaching, and Rand tells him to inform Bashere that Rhuarc and Bael will be here soon.
“It is time to secure Arad Doman.”
Or maybe it was time to destroy it. Sometimes, it was difficult to tell the difference.
Merise is questioning Semirhage about Graendal’s plans. Cadsuane observes that Merise is trying a little too hard, but is the best person besides herself to do the questioning. However, it is having no effect on the Forsaken, who shows no distress at being hung upside down. Instead of answering, Semirhage tells Merise about her experiments at replacing a person’s blood with another substance; one of her subjects lasted almost an hour afterwards, she says, in complete agony. She promises to show Merise the weave someday, and Merise pales; Cadsuane blocks Semirhage’s hearing and vision and tells Merise she is losing control. Merise complains that nothing works on the woman, but Cadsuane is sure that there is a way to break her. Merise points out that Semirhage has lived for three thousand years, but Cadsuane counters that she was imprisoned in the Bore for most of that. She is irritated at the weakness of the other Aes Sedai, but reminds herself that perhaps it is just her age that is making her intolerant.
Over two centuries ago, she’d sworn to herself that she’d live to attend the Last Battle, no matter how long that took. [ ] One might have thought that the years would also have taught her patience, but it had done the opposite. The older she grew, the less inclined she was to wait, for she knew she didn’t have many years left.
Anyone who claimed that old age had brought them patience was either lying or senile.
Merise laments that they are not allowed to use the a’dam on the prisoner, but Cadsuane knows that amounts to torture, and so is forbidden. She wonders whether the woman expects to be rescued, and wishes she had forkroot. Merise resumes the interrogation, but Semirhage is silent, and Cadsuane thinks about al’Thor instead. She thinks her efforts with him were not a failure yet, but they were close. She returns to the problem of Semirhage, and realizes abruptly that it didn’t matter that al’Thor had forbidden torturing her, for this woman could not be broken with pain.
With a chill, looking into those eyes, Cadsuane thought she saw something of herself in the creature. Age, craftiness and unwillingness to budge.
That, then, left a question for her. If given the task, how would Cadsuane go about breaking herself?
Corele interrupts with the news that al’Thor is meeting with his Aiel chiefs soon, and Cadsuane orders the interrogation halted for the moment; it’s time to deal with the boy.
A much shorter recap of this chapter would be something like, “Rand reflects on how much his life sucks, and Semirhage is creepy.”
Which is fair enough, because Rand’s life really, really sucks, and Semirhage is really, really creepy. So at least we’re being true to events, or something.
Nice touch here, that Rand doesn’t even notice he’s treating some of Lews Therin’s memories as his own even as he’s in the midst of freaking out about that very thing. Nice, and (initially) rather chilling, too. It’s different now that I know how this thing is going to shake out, but when I first read this I was not so sanguine.
I think I’ve said this before, but I really don’t think there are too many things that could be worse than to not only be losing my mind, but being aware of it while it’s happening. Imagine it, never being able to trust that your own thoughts aren’t all—just—wrong. Imagine knowing that your ability to tell the difference between reality and fantasy is unstoppably eroding, and that at some point you might not even be able to remember anymore that there was a division in the first place. To have an enemy so intangible and inescapable that you probably won’t even know when it’s won Agh. Gives me the shivers, it does.
Rand’s thoughts on the correlation between duty and prophecy (or fate, which amounts to the same thing, I suppose), and the total lack of freedom bestowed thereof, were interesting, but I don’t know that I have anything to add to it that Rand didn’t think about himself. Unless “that sucks, dude” counts as a worthwhile addition to the discourse, which it doesn’t.
Although, it does have the virtue of being true: that really does suck, dude.
Hey, at least it’s concise!
ANYway, also, reenter Cadsuane, which fills me with feelings, none of which I’m having much luck identifying just yet. Except that none of them are outright loathing, which I feel is a very positive step forward in our relationship, so there’s that. I think I’ll hold off commenting on her until a bit later.
Aaaand Harine’s back. More Sea Folk. Yay.
*world’s smallest pom-pom*
Though if I recall correctly (and that’s a big “if”), Harine doesn’t really get much of a chance to be annoying once the shit hits the fan, which will be shortly. So I guess that’s something?
Hey, I’ll take my bright spots where I can find them; they’re going to be at a distinct premium Real Soon Now. Thanks to CERTAIN VERY CREEPY FORSAKEN, whose hobby list is apparently right up there with Josef Mengele’s. Ugh. In fact, now that I think about it, I would not be at all surprised to learn that Mengele was a major inspiration for her character.
(Just in case you don’t know (though I can’t see how anyone could not know, but anyway), Mengele was a Nazi SS doctor who performed gruesome, agonizing, and utterly pointless “medical” experiments on prisoners at Auschwitz, and is unquestionably one of the vilest human beings to have ever walked the earth. Correspondingly, I suggest you avoid reading the Wikipedia entry on him if you’re easily upset. I just did and I’m feeling the distinct need for a stiff drink right about now.)
Randomly: I forgot until reading this chapter that thanks to Ta’veren Telepathy in Technicolor, Rand has actually seen Tuon before he meets her. (Semi’s Illusion disguise doesn’t count, because she was veiled, so Rand couldn’t see her face then.) So now I’m racking my brains to try and remember whether Rand makes this connection when he does actually meet her later in this book, but all I can recall from that scene is that Rand was in full I KEEL YOU ALL psycho bitchface mode by that point, and botched the meeting but good. Which was, admittedly, a pretty effective distraction for everyone involved, including the reader.
Still, you’d think he would have made the connection. Guess I’ll see when I get there.
Chapter 6: When Iron Melts
Ituralde observes the carnage of the aftermath of his battle against the Seanchan outside Darluna, and wonders what if anything the history books will say about it. He had lost fifty thousand men, but he’d defeated an army three times that size, with damane to boot. He goes to where the Seanchan general, Turan, is dying of his wounds. Turan comments that they call Ituralde a “Great Captain” in Tarabon, and says Ituralde deserves the title. Ituralde explains how he pulled it off, and Turan tells him that the High Lady Suroth will be obligated to break him after this, and Ituralde acknowledges this, as well as the fact that he does not have the numbers to defeat the Seanchan’s full might. Turan asks why, then.
“Why does a crow fly?” Ituralde asked.
[ ] Sometimes, surrender wasn’t worth the cost. No man welcomed death, but there were far worse ends for a soldier. Abandoning one’s homeland to invaders… well, Ituralde couldn’t do that. Not even if the fight was impossible to win.
He did what needed to be done, when it needed to be done. And right now, Arad Doman needed to fight. They would lose, but their children would always know that their fathers had resisted. That resistance would be important in a hundred years, when a rebellion came. If one came.
Turan tells him it has been an honor, and Ituralde beheads Turan with his own sword, at his request, before heading back.
Leane reports to Egwene that she has tried “encouraging” some serving men and guards, but in her present state she is not feeling very alluring. She marvels at Egwene’s poise and air of control despite the pain she is in, and thinks it is impossible to think of her as anything but the Amyrlin. She tells Egwene that she owes her sanity to Egwene’s frequent visits. Egwene promises Leane she will see her freed, and goes to leave, but then they both notice the bars of her cell have gone soft.
Suddenly, the stones beneath Leane’s feet shifted, and she felt herself sinking. She cried out. Globs of melted wax starting to rain down from the ceiling, splattering across her face. They weren’t warm, but they were somehow liquid. They had the color of stone!
Egwene grabs her, and screams for help from the Yellows guarding the cell. The Aes Sedai yank Leane free with Air, and then they all see that the cell has stopped melting, and Leane is coated instead with a layer of crumbling stone.
“These sorts of events are more frequent,” Egwene said calmly, glancing at the two Yellows. “The Dark One is getting stronger. The Last Battle approaches. What is your Amyrlin doing about it?”
The older Yellow (Musarin) looks deeply disturbed, but sends Egwene away with no other comment.
Egwene heads for the novices’ quarters, unsettled by the event in the cells, and angered that the Tower sisters are still wasting time squabbling while such things are happening. Then she realizes she is in the Browns’ section, which should be in the opposite direction, and sees that the view from the window is the same as it should be from the novice wing. She points this out to a sister, and soon the whole Tower is roused.
It appeared that two sections of the Tower had been swapped, and the slumbering Brown sisters had been moved from their sections on the upper levels down into the wing. The novices’ rooms—intact—had been placed where the section of Brown sisters had been. Nobody remembered any motion or vibration when the swap happened, and the transfer appeared seamless.
The Browns at length decide that they will have to accept the change, even though it will leave them divided, which Egwene finds symbolically apt. Egwene thinks to herself that it is getting worse and worse.
So Ituralde kind of completely kicks ass, doesn’t he?
Why yes, yes he does. So sayeth moi, and I don’t think I’m alone in thinking so. I think my reaction to his thoughts about why he was fighting a hopeless fight can be summed up by another crude-yet-concise phrase, which is fuckin’ A.
If I may risk giving my international readers hives for a moment, this is pretty much precisely what I would hope my countrymen would say when faced with similar circumstances. Or, national patriotism aside, it is what I hope we would all say, really, when that alien invasion/robot takeover/zombie apocalypse the science fiction genre’s been warning us about for decades now comes to pass. Something something indomitable will, blah blah human dignity, etc. You know what I mean!
Of course, “Never give up, never surrender” is a really easy thing to say, and a really damn hard thing to follow through on. So all due props to Messieur Rodel for walking the walk as well as talking the talk.
As for Egwene and Leane’s adventures: yeah, so, I know it makes no sense but I am still not as creeped out by all the melting and switching as I was about that mural in the last Egwene chapter. Irrational phobias, I has them, evidently!
Of course, I might have quite a different reaction if the melting and switching was actually happening to me, instead of me just reading about it, so that’s probably something to consider. I highly doubt I would have had as calm a reaction to it as Egwene, for damn sure.
Also, is this the first time we’ve gotten a Leane POV? I can’t remember. If so, she needs another, longer one. I’ve always liked Leane a lot. I’ve long had a soft spot for those “born right-hand (wo)man”, second-in-command, Number Two characters, and she’s an excellent example of that.
And I’d warn you off the timesuck link there, but seeing as I’m about out of useful things to say about this chapter, you might as well go have fun, eh? Have a week, kids, and see you next Tuesday!