It’s a Wheel of Time Re-read! Shocking!
Today’s entry covers Chapters 42 and 43 of The Gathering Storm, in which there is epic failage, epic pwnage, and epic crimes against grammar and the English language in general. Sowwy.
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, slightly obscure cut text, and the post!
Chapter 42: Before the Stone of Tear
Lews Therin is very upset that they do not know the names of the women in Natrin’s Barrow to add to the list. Rand yells at him that it is HIS list, not Lews Therin’s, but Lews Therin only moans about using balefire when he’d promised never to do that again.
What have we become? Lews Therin whispered. We’re going to do it again, aren’t we? Kill them all. Everyone we’ve loved. Again, again, again…
“Again and again,” Rand whispered. “It doesn’t matter, as long as the world survives. They cursed me before, swore at Dragonmount and by my name, but they lived. We’re here, ready to fight. Again and again.”
Concerned, Min asks if he is thinking about the people, and Rand looks at the silent, ragged crowd gathered to watch him ride through the streets of Bandar Eban, and thinks that this is the first time he’d left a nation in worse condition than he’d found it. He thinks that Arad Doman is going to be crushed between the Seanchan and the Trollocs, and Rand was leaving it to happen. Bashere approaches, and Rand asks him if the what remains of the Council is going to do as he ordered: select new members and elect a king. Bashere says that he thinks they are going to flee the moment Rand’s back is turned.
Arad Doman, as a kingdom, was finished. Like a table laden with too much weight, it would soon collapse. It is not my problem, Rand thought, not looking at the people. I did everything I could.
That wasn’t true.
Bashere says Ituralde reports that he’s catching glimpses of Shadowspawn forces assembling that are large enough to crush him, and Rand curses the Borderlanders mentally, thinking he will have to do something about them soon. His party reaches the main square, and Flinn and Naeff open large gateways, as the people of the city watch silently from all around. Before Rand can go through, one of the dockmasters of the city, Iralin, approaches him. Iralin tells him that the food is spoiled. Rand asks, what food?
“All of it,” the man said, voice taut. “Every barrel, every sack, every bit in our stores and in the Sea Folk ships. My Lord! It’s not just full of weevils. It’s grown black and bitter, and it makes men sick to eat it!”
“All of it?” he repeated, shocked.
“Everything,” Iralin said softly. “Hundreds upon hundreds of barrels. It happened suddenly, in the blink of an eye. One moment, it was good, the next moment… My Lord, so many people have come to the city because they heard we had food! Now we have nothing. What will we do?”
Rand closed his eyes.
“My Lord?” Iralin asked.
Rand opened his eyes and kicked Tai’daishar into motion. He left the dockmaster behind, mouth open, and passed through the gateway. There was nothing more Rand could do. Nothing more he would do.
He put the coming starvation out of his mind. It was shocking how easy that was.
Bandar Eban vanished, those too-silent people vanished.
Rand is shocked by the cheering on the other side of the gateway in Tear, in sharp contrast to the silence of the Domani, which makes him feel even worse. He rides through the city to the Stone. Neither Nynaeve nor Cadsuane had been around when he’d left Bandar Eban, but he thinks it will be easy for them to find him, as he no longer intends to hide. Bashere asks what he’ll do if Ituralde hears of his withdrawal from Arad Doman and decides to abandon the Borderlands to defend his home from the Seanchan; Rand answers, then Ituralde will slow the Seanchan from nipping at his heels. Bashere sighs and says it is all a mess, and they will be in a bad position, going in with the Seanchan at their rear; Rand agrees, and says this is why their next move must be to find the Borderlanders and settle whatever their complaint is with him.
“I have little patience for men who abandon their duties.”
Have we done that? Lews Therin asked. Who have we abandoned?
Quiet! Rand growled. Go back to your tears, madman, and leave me be!
Bashere allows as to how he has no idea what Tenobia et al are doing, and Rand orders him to take a couple of Asha’man and track the Borderlanders down once his men are settled. The parade reaches the Stone, where Darlin is waiting to greet him along with Dobraine, Caraline, and Weiramon, who Rand thinks looks like a dandified fool as usual.
I like him, Lews Therin thought.
Rand started. You don’t like anyone!
He’s honest, Lews Therin replied, then laughed. More than I am, for certain! A man doesn’t choose to be an idiot, but he does choose to be loyal. We could do much worse than have this man as a follower.
The remaining High Lords and Ladies of Tear are there as well, as is Alanna, who Rand deliberately ignores. Darlin greets Rand politely, but he is plainly annoyed at having to wait for weeks after having been ordered to put an army together in great haste. Rand congratulates Darlin on his ability to follow orders, but says they will have to wait a bit longer before they go. Confused, Darlin asks if they are not going to Arad Doman as originally planned, then.
“What Arad Doman needs, nobody can give,” Rand said. “Your forces will be coming with me.”
“Of course, my Lord. And… where will we be marching?”
“To Shayol Ghul.”
WHISKEY, TANGO, FOXTROT, OVER.
He abandoned them. To starve.
I just, what. No.
That is so incredibly not cool that it bounces right off the scale of Cool-Not Cool and punches through the space-time barrier into some alternate dimension of Eternal Suck.
He just left them there.
I say again, HWAT.
And while I suppose that just as there are people who will argue that no, really, the Randster is all right, that whole balefiring a city full of people thing in his last chapter was totally justified (because all the inhabitants probably were all brain-liquefied vegetables anyway, I mean yeah we never actually confirmed that or anything but hey
Schizo al’Crazypants whoops I mean Rand said so, so it must be true, so that is totally not mass murder, because unlike what certain brain-farting recappers may have claimed a few posts ago balefire doesn’t actually destroy souls, so aside from that whole “possibly destroying the fabric of reality” minor detail thingy, that makes it completely okay, just like burning down an asylum for the incurably insane is jes fine, because hey, it’s not like those crazy people had any real quality of life, right, and they’ll probably get to be not-crazy in their next life, so we totally did them a favor, and next up are cripples and old people! Yay!), that there will also be those who will say, I guess, oh hey leaving Bandar Eban to tear itself apart in food riots is totes okay too, you can’t blame him for that, because you can’t make an apocalyptic omelet without breaking a few hundred thousand eggs amirite amirite, and besides what was Rand supposed to do, pull three million tons of foodstuffs out of his ass?
I’ll tell you what he was supposed to do. He was supposed to STAY THERE AND FIX HIS FUCKING MESS, that’s what he was supposed to do.
No, I have no goddamn clue how, that is not the point. The point is that the Rand I’ve been following around for the last decade and a half would never have pulled this shit.
Before now. Gah.
Of course, before now he was also not a walking vortex of Bad Crap Happening that can make an entire harborful of food go rotten just by looking at it sideways, more or less literally, but that just makes it more his fault, if you ask me. (I don’t know, actually, if we are supposed to infer that all the food going bad is in fact due to Rand’s rapidly souring ta’veren mojo or not, but that’s certainly what I think happened, so there.)
His fault, sez me. And none of this “but he can’t control it!” crap, because a hit and run is a hit and run, whether you meant to do it or not, the end. Own your shit or get away from my toilet, dude.
Seriously, I really just want to push the Rand chapters in TGS away from me with a stick. A pointy stick. Maybe a cattle prod. Maybe a Tesla coil.
It’s possible I said that already, but if so it bears repeating. BAD TOUCH GO AWAY NO.
Ugh. And the fact that I now know he’s going to come back and fix things with his magical Jesus powers in the next book does not actually lessen my disgust with him at this point in the slightest.
Ergo, in conclusion:
Blarg. And this is not even to touch the whole thing where he wants to go to Shayol Ghul right now, which is officially the worst idea in the history of ever.
The only other thing that struck me about this chapter (other than the GRAVITATIONAL EVENT-LEVEL SUCKAGE) is Lews Therin’s utterly bewildering mancrush on Weiramon. Which I find even more bizarre now that I know Weiramon’s a Darkfriend than I did the first time I read TGS, when I was still nursing my theory that he was just a jackass.
Seriously, what was that about? I mean, I suppose it could be to punch up the contrast later when Zen Master Rand comes back, takes one look at Weiramon and is all BAAAP! Darkfriend red card, you out, buh-bye, but that was a really odd way to get it across, if so.
Chapter 43: Sealed to the Flame
Egwene sits quietly in her tent, meditating on recent events. She is furious at Siuan and the others for disobeying her explicit command not to rescue her, but reflects that she herself had made mistakes as well, in not confiding more of her plans to Siuan, and also in unconsciously encouraging Siuan’s already-entrenched tendency to defy authority when it suited her. She considers the disastrous timing of her rescue, and how best to proceed from here.
There was no way she could return to the White Tower as a novice now. Her defiance had worked only because she had been a captive Amyrlin. If she went back willingly, she would be seen as subservient, or as arrogant. Besides, Elaida would certainly have her executed this time.
Egwene had thought that as Amyrlin she would have more control over her fate than as a simple country girl, but she now considers that perhaps one’s station in life doesn’t change how twists in the Pattern can ambush one.
No. It was not just an illusion. The Amyrlin did have more control, if only because she controlled herself and kept the tempest outside her. She swayed before the needs of the moment, but her actions were well-considered. She had to be as logical as a White, as thoughtful as a Brown, as passionate as a Blue, as decisive as a Green, as merciful as a Yellow, as diplomatic as a Gray. And yes, as vengeful as a Red, when necessary.
Egwene thinks that she cannot afford to wait any longer on negotiations, and if she is going to resort to force, she must do it now, while the Tower is still reeling from the Seanchan raid. She hopes history will forgive her for doing it. She rises and exits the tent, only to find Gawyn sitting on the ground in front of it. She notes again how handsome he is, but forces down her concern for and attraction to him. She tries to sidestep him, but he insists they need to talk. She tells him she already told him she hasn’t sorted out how she feels yet.
He set his jaw. “I don’t believe that Aes Sedai calmness, Egwene,” he said. “Not when your eyes are so much more truthful. I’ve sacrificed—”
“You’ve sacrificed?” Egwene interrupted, letting a little anger show. “What about what I sacrificed to rebuild the White Tower? Sacrifices that you undermined by acting against my express wishes? Did Siuan not tell you that I had forbidden a rescue?”
“She did,” he said stiffly. “But we were worried about you!”
“Well, that worry was the sacrifice I demanded, Gawyn,” she said, exasperated. “Don’t you see what a distrust you have shown me? How can I trust you if you will disobey me in order to feel more comfortable?”
Gawyn didn’t look ashamed; he just looked perturbed. That was actually a good sign—as Amyrlin, she needed a man who would speak his mind. In private. But in public she’d need someone who supported her. Couldn’t he see that?
“You love me, Egwene,” he said stubbornly. “I can see it.”
“Egwene the woman loves you,” she said. “But Egwene the Amyrlin is furious with you. Gawyn, if you’d be with me, you have to be with both the woman and the Amyrlin.”
Gawyn confesses that he still does not truly believe she is the Amyrlin in more than just name; Egwene says this is why they have to wait to talk. Gawyn warns her he does not intend to let this go. He asks if the rumors that she intends to attack the Tower are true; he says he doesn’t care about Tar Valon, but he knows what it will do to Egwene to order the attack. She tells him she will do what she must for the good of the Aes Sedai and the White Tower, no matter how painful.
All of the remaining Ajah Heads in the Tower except Tsutama Rath (Red) are gathered in secret to discuss the situation following the greatest disaster in the history of the Tower.
Just enough space for five women. The most powerful women in the world. And the five most foolish, it seemed.
Adelorna Bastine (Green) informs Jesse Bilal (Brown) that this is all her fault, and Ferane Neheran (White) agrees. Jesse counters that just because she was the one to point out that there were times that the Ajah Heads ran the Tower instead of the Amyrlin didn’t mean that the others hadn’t all willingly gone along with it. Suana Dragand (Yellow) opines that there is no point in trying to assign blame, and Serancha Colvine (Gray) agrees, and says they must work together, as they are not going to get leadership from the Hall.
It had seemed like a brilliant plan. The division of the Tower, the departure of so many in rebellion and the raising of a new Amyrlin, had not been their fault. But it had presented several opportunities. The first had been the easiest to take hold of: send Sitters to the rebels to steer them and hasten a reconciliation. The most youthful of Sitters had been chosen, their replacements in the Tower intended to serve only a short time. The Ajah heads had been certain this ripple of a rebellion could be easily smoothed over.
Serancha asks where they think they went wrong; Ferane thinks it was Elaida’s total lack of logic that ruined it, but Jesse thinks it was also that their methods of choosing temporary Sitters raised too many suspicions among the rank and file. Serancha adds that the unexpected effectiveness of the rebels also contributed to their failure. Jesse thinks to herself that they should never have allowed Elaida to disband the Blues, whose doggedness at getting their way was legendary.
“I think it is time to admit that there is no hope to save our plans,” Suana said. “Are we agreed?”
“Agreed,” Adelorna said.
One by one, the sisters nodded their heads, and so did Jesse herself. Even in this room, it was difficult to admit fault. But it was time to cut their losses and begin rebuilding.
They agree, first, that Elaida must be abandoned to her fate; even if she didn’t deserve it, there is no feasible way to rescue her. Serancha says they will need a replacement, then, and Suana says it will need to be someone strong, but cautious, someone the sisters can rally around. They each then promptly put forward that a sister from their Ajah is the best choice, until Jesse points out that they are doing the exact same thing as the Hall. They all know that the Sitters will never stand for anyone not of their own Ajah anymore. Ferane suggests it should be one of the Ajaha Heads themselves, but Jesse knows none of them will ever allow one of the other four to gain that much power over the others. They start sniping at each other until Serancha admits she can’t think of anyone who the Sitters will all accept.
“I can,” Adelorna said softly. “She was mentioned in the Hall several times today. You know of whom I speak. She is young, and her circumstances are unusual, but everything is unusual at the moment.”
Serancha protests she’s too young, but Ferane counters that she has “flair” and courage, and Adelorna confirms that the rumors of what she did during the raid are all true. Ferane adds that the novices “all but worship her.”
“If the Sitters will not stand for someone of another Ajah, what of a woman who never picked an Ajah? A woman who has some experience—however unjustified—in holding the very position we are discussing?”
Adelorna further points out that this would be the best method of making peace with the rebels. Suana agrees, reluctantly. Serancha says she will not be party to creating another puppet, and Ferane tells her that she doubts that will be the problem here.
[Jesse:] “Sisters, if we agree to this, it will end our dream of ruling from the shadows. For better or worse, we’ll be setting up an Amyrlin of strength.”
“I, for one,” Adelorna said, “think that’s a splendid idea. It’s been too long.”
One by one, the others agreed.
Siuan watches from a distance as the rebel Hall goes into session. Bryne joins her and asks what she thinks Egwene will tell them. Siuan supposes she could call for Siuan’s stilling, but Bryne doubts she is the vengeful type. Siuan just worries that she has lost Egwene’s trust. Bryne asks if it was worth it, and Siuan thinks it was, and that it is not always possible to wait for certainty before acting.
She could feel Bryne’s smile through the bond. Light, but it was good to have a Warder again. She hadn’t realized how much she’d missed that comforting knot of emotions in the back of her mind. That stability. Men thought differently from women, and things she found complicated and baffling, Bryne saw as straightforward and simple. Make your decision and go. There was a helpful clarity to his way of reasoning. Not that he was simple—just less inclined to regret decisions he’d already made.
She then realizes Bryne thinks that she might consider agreeing to bond him one of the “acceptable costs” of the night, and tells him he’s a fool. He laughs and says he’ll have to make his second demand extra unreasonable, then. Siuan is not reassured by this. Bryne goes on to say that he thinks he understands her better now: she is a woman of honor, but her own demands of herself are more stringent than anyone else’s could be. She grumbles that this is tedious, and demands to know what his second demand will be.
“Well, frankly, I’m planning to demand that you marry me.”
She blinked in surprise. Light! The bond said that he was honest.
“But only after you feel the world can care for itself. I won’t agree to it before then, Siuan. You’ve given your life to something. I’ll see that you survive through it; I hope that once you’re done, you’ll be willing to give your life to something else instead.”
Siuan stutters that she will think on it, and Bryne chuckles. She knows he senses the truth from her, and ruefully decides they are both fools together.
Egwene stands before the rebel Hall, each Ajah short the one Sitter who had gone to the Black Tower, and carefully does not look at Sheriam. She mentally curses Siuan for coming to rescue Egwene rather than keeping an eye on the Black sister as she’d been told. Romanda “oozes” satisfaction, while Lelaine barely hides a sulk . Egwene embraces the Source, and then orders a few Sitters who follow suit instinctively to let it go. Egwene then reaches into her purse and pulls out the Oath Rod, which she had taken from Saerin in the Tower that morning; the Sitters recognize it and gasp. Egwene weaves Spirit into the rod and quickly lays the Three Oaths upon herself, ignoring the discomfort as the oaths tighten upon her.
“And now that you’ve seen me use the Oath Rod and know that I cannot lie, I will tell you something. During my time in the White Tower, a sister came to me and confided that she was Black Ajah.”
There are more gasps, and Egwene dares anyone to deny the Black Ajah’s existence any longer. No one speaks, and Egwene says that she has seen what distrust can do, and that she is determined there will be no distrust here any longer. Egwene announces that she is not a Darkfriend, and says it is time for them all to prove themselves. Sheriam embraces the Source, but Egwene had anticipated the move and slams a shield on her, cutting her off.
Oh, Sheriam, Egwene thought. I had hoped that Verin was wrong about you.
“Egwene?” Sheriam asked uncomfortably. “I was just—”
Egwene stepped forward. “Are you Black Ajah, Sheriam?”
“What? Of course not!”
“Do you consort with the Forsaken?”
“No!” Sheriam said, glancing to the sides.
“Do you serve the Dark One?”
“Have you been released from your oaths?”
“Do you have red hair?”
“Of course not, I never—” She froze.
And thank you for that trick as well, Verin, Egwene thought with a mental sigh.
Egwene says the woman who came to her named Sheriam as a leader among the Black. Sheriam asks who it was, and Egwene tells her it was Verin. Sheriam sits back and remarks she’d never have expected it of Verin, tacitly admitting everything. Egwene wraps Sheriam in air and turns back to the thoroughly shocked Hall. Lelaine asks who else was mentioned; when Egwene answers some were Sitters, Moria makes a break for the exit. She is caught and detained as well, and Romanda comments that this was a very dramatic way to reveal the knowledge; Egwene counters that they would not have believed her had she simply announced Moria and Sheriam were Darkfriends, and Romanda concedes the point. She is the first to unswear and reswear the Oaths and announce she is not a Darkfriend, followed by Lelaine and then the rest of the Sitters.
“Very good,” Egwene said, returning to stand at the head of the room. “From now on, we continue as one. No more squabbling. No more fighting. We each have the best interests of the White Tower—and the world itself—at heart. The twelve of us, at least, are confident in one another.
“Light, what a mess,” Romanda muttered.
“It must be done,” haughty Berana said with a shake of her head.
“And it must be done quickly,” Egwene said. “So that the Black sisters don’t have time to escape. I’ll warn Lord Bryne to create a perimeter of archers and sisters we trust to stop any trying to escape, just in case.”
Lelaine asks, what of the White Tower? Egwene replies that after they have cleansed themselves, the rest of the Aes Sedai must be next: she plans to begin an assault on Tar Valon by this evening. Romanda glances at Sheriam and Moria, and stands in support, followed by unanimous consent from all the Sitters.
“Light preserve us,” Lelaine whispered. “And forgive us for what we are about to do.”
My thoughts exactly, Egwene added.
It is as I said before: EGWENE AL’VERE WINS ALL THE THINGS.
She cleans all the things too, and oh, it is so sweet to see that get underway.
I suppose I ought to say something about the “Egwene sucks!”/“No she doesn’t!” debate going on in the comments of late, but I really don’t know how to respond other than to sort of shrug helplessly in a “Girl you crazy” kind of way, because I just don’t get in the slightest how one can find Egwene to be anything other than pure concentrated Awesome in TGS.
Which isn’t to say she doesn’t make mistakes, because she totally does, as she herself points out in this chapter. But the difference is, she acknowledges that, and examines her mistakes so she can learn from them, and hopefully not do them again.
That? Is called “owning your shit”. Which means CERTAIN UNNAMED MESSIAH FIGURES are getting seriously pwned right now in the leadership department. You know, leadership? That thing where you don’t abandon the people who depend on you, and run off with your tail almost not metaphorically between your legs when you screw up? Yeah, that thing. You gonna let your high school girlfriend show you up like that, man? SACK UP ALREADY, SHEESH.
Anyway. Egwene roxxors, I think is my point here. The only sour note in her bits of this chapter, in my opinion, is Sheriam, whose reaction once she had definitively been outed as Black struck me as a tad weird. I dunno, in the space of one line of dialogue she went from panic to all lounging back and being blasé about it all, and it was just really not what I would have expected from her. *shrug*
This chapter also features the solving, sort of, of one of the bigger WOT mysteries of the later books, which was What Was The Deal With The Too-Young Sitters. It’s actually kind of amazing how much time the fans spent on this particular conundrum (seriously, there were org charts involved and everything), but then, what better fun for geeks than to have a ton of fictional data to chew through and get all organized, and then argue about the results? It is How We Roll.
I say this was “sort of” solved here, because the idea that the Ajah Heads had sent the Obstructionist Five Sitters (Takima, Faiselle, Varilin, Magla and Saroiya) to the rebels deliberately in order to facilitate their reconciliation with and reintegration back into the Tower was probably the first idea put forward, even before we had anything more to go on than Siuan’s vague assertion in TPOD that some of the rebel Sitters were “weird”, and I think it’s always been the most popular notion. The problem, of course, is that many people argued against it, on the grounds that unless the Ajah Heads had known ahead of time that the coup was going to go down, it seemed highly problematic that in the midst of the chaos they would have had either the time or the werewithal to corral the Ob5 Sitters and brief them on their mission and send them on their way.
I can’t really tell, from reading this chapter, whether we are supposed to infer that the Ajah Heads were in fact warned ahead of time or not, but my general impression is that they were blindsided by the coup. If so, they couldn’t have planned ahead for it, obviously. However there seems to be an implication, as well, that they may not have sent the Ob5 the day of the coup, but within a day or two after.
I find the latter a little odd, if so, because joining a rebellion really seems like a “shit or get off the pot, right now” kind of decision, whether you’re doing it for real or as a double agent. But, okay. As long as you go with it, that accounts for the timing issue that kept a lot of fans from completely buying the Ajah Head conspiracy thing, et voilà.
Anyway. Aside from all that, I remember when I first read the scene here where the Ajah Heads talk themselves into giving Egwene the title that it was awesome and yet a little facile, even so. I don’t really think that on re-reading it, though. Mostly because they really do seem to be backed into a corner otherwise on picking an Amyrlin. I mean, seriously, who else would be acceptable at this point?
It is very nice that both the Ajah Heads’ conversation and Egwene’s own thoughts emphasize how symbolically important it is that Egwene has truly never been part of any Ajah, and thus in the time of the Tower’s deepest divisions along those lines can actually be acceptable to all factions, and represent a well, a purer ideal of an Aes Sedai and an Amyrlin than anyone else could. Of all Ajahs and none, indeed.
And also, Bryne proposes to Siuan! Sort of! AND YET STILL THEY HAVE NOT KISSED. Aw. They are so repressedly adorable. I’m not even slightly frustrated on their behalf, nuh-uh.
(Dude, I don’t think they’ve even had a full-contact hug yet. It is All So Regency!)
Gawyn: Shut up, Gawyn.
And we out, kids! Have a lovely and nutritious week, and I’ll see you next time!