The Wheel of Time Reread

The Wheel of Time Re-read: Towers of Midnight, Part 4

It’s a Wheel of Time Re-read! Everybody HIDE!

Today’s entry covers Chapter 3 of Towers of Midnight, in which we discuss problems of perception, balance, and roadkill. Sort of.

Previous re-read entries are here. The Wheel of Time Master Index is here, which has links to news, reviews, interviews, and all manner of information about the Wheel of Time in general, including the upcoming final volume, A Memory of Light.

This re-read post contains spoilers for all currently published Wheel of Time novels. If you haven’t read, read at your own risk.

And now, the post!

Chapter 3: The Amyrlin’s Anger

What Happens
Egwene floats in the space between dreams and the waking world, where she often goes now to meditate. She ignores the temptation to seek out Gawyn’s dream and finds Nynaeve’s instead, to instruct her firmly that it is time Nynaeve stopped avoiding her, and to meet her two nights hence in the Hall of the Tower or else. She reflects to herself that both Nynaeve and Elayne’s uncertain status as Aes Sedai needs to be put to rest. She decides against contacting any of the Wise Ones and slips into her own dream of Gawyn, but it is interrupted by a series of disturbing visions:

All was dust around her, and thirteen black towers rose in the distance beneath a tarlike sky.

One fell, and then another, crashing to the ground. As they did, the ones that remained grew taller and taller. The ground shook as several more towers fell. Another tower shook and cracked, collapsing most of the way to the ground—but then, it recovered and grew tallest of all.

At the end of the quake, six towers remained, looming above her.

The vision changes to that of a nest of fledgling eagles, being eaten one by one by a serpent coiled in their nest, and then again to a vision of an enormous sphere of crystal, sparkling in “the light of twenty-three enormous stars”, cracked and held together by ropes, and Rand walking up with an axe to chop the ropes free and allow the sphere to crack apart. Egwene wakes, deeply unsettled, and writes the dreams down in her diary. She knows that the middle one refers to Mesaana, still somehow hidden in the White Tower.

If Egwene did not find Mesaana and stop her, something terrible would happen. It could mean the fall of the White Tower, perhaps the victory of the Dark One. Dreams were not Foretellings—they didn’t show what would happen, but what could.

Egwene is interrupted by Silviana, who has come to tell her that the Dragon Reborn is in the Tower and has asked to see her.

Siuan demands to know how al’Thor got so far into Tar Valon without being seen, but Saerin replies that with the chaos in the city it is not that surprising. Captain Chubain adds that he just showed up at the Sunset Gates and asked to see the Amyrlin, “calm as spring rain”. Siuan supposes aloud that he might be frightened and turning himself in, but privately she doubts it. Saerin says she has heard that he is “mistrustful and erratic”, especially concerning Aes Sedai. Siuan thinks that she hasn’t seen the boy in two years, but that matches what she had heard as well.

Temperamental, distrustful, arrogant. Light burn Elaida! Siuan thought. If not for her, we’d have had him safely in Aes Sedai care long ago.

Most of the sisters in the Tower are heading toward the Hall, trying not to appear nervous. Siuan and Saerin enter a corridor whose tiles should have been yellow and white, but are instead blood-red and slick-looking, and hastily backtrack just in case. Outside the Hall, Siuan reflects that the choice of Silviana as Egwene’s new Keeper was a brilliant one; though she is a tiny bit disappointed not to be chosen herself, she acknowledges that she no longer has the stomach for the politicking involved, wanting only to dedicate herself to the issue of the Last Battle. Bryne arrives, and teases her gently about letting her famed Aes Sedai serenity slip. He asks her what is wrong as Egwene arrives, and Siuan confesses that she’d thought it would be her, Siuan, in there when this day arrived.

Bryne’s grip tightened. “Siuan, I…”

“Oh, don’t be like that,” she growled, looking at him. “I don’t regret a thing.”

He frowned.

“It’s for the best,” Siuan said, though it twisted her insides in knots to admit it. “For all her tyranny and foolishness, it is good that Elaida removed me, because that is what led us to Egwene. She’ll do better than I could have. It’s hard to swallow—I did well as Amyrlin, but I couldn’t do that. Lead by presence instead of force, uniting instead of dividing. And so, I’m glad that Egwene is receiving him.”

Bryne tells her he is proud of her; Siuan scoffs, but Bryne says firmly that whatever Egwene achieves, it is because Siuan paved the way for her, and Siuan is a bit mollified. Bryne comments that he saw al’Thor on his way in, shielded by no less than twenty-six sisters, but that the sisters all seemed “in a near panic”. Siuan asks if he seems frightened or angry.

“Honestly, Siuan? He looked like an Aes Sedai.”

Siuan snapped her jaw closed. Was he taunting her again? No, the general seemed serious. But what did he mean?

Egwene enters the Hall, and then the procession of Warders and Aes Sedai guarding the Dragon Reborn approaches. Siuan ignores the glow of ta’veren around him that her Talent lets her see, and observes that the boy she’d met two years ago seemed a full-grown man now, walking with assurance and confidence, and is shocked to see Bryne is right, and that his eyes looked ageless, as though he “was seeing through the light of a thousand lives compounded in one”. Al’Thor sees her and stops the proceedings to come to her, and no one has the nerve to stop him. Al’Thor remarks that she’s changed since they last met, and asks if he ever thanked her for taking an arrow for him. Siuan answers that she didn’t do it intentionally, startled by his relaxed smile. He asks what kind of Amyrlin Egwene is, and Siuan answers that she is one of the greatest they’ve had, even in so short a time.

He smiled again. “I should have expected nothing less. Strange, but I feel that seeing her again will hurt, though that is one wound that has well and truly healed. I can still remember the pain of it, I suppose.”

Light, but this man was making a muddle of her expectations! The White Tower was a place that should have unnerved any man who could channel, Dragon Reborn or not. Yet he didn’t seem worried in the least.

They are interrupted by an Aes Sedai named Tiana, who approaches and pulls out a letter with a red seal. She tells al’Thor nervously that it is for him, though she refuses to elaborate further. Al’Thor pockets it without reading it, and asks Siuan to do her best “to calm Egwene when he is done”. Then he enters the Hall.

Egwene thinks she is not ready for this as she watches Rand enter the Hall, and reminds herself that this is not her childhood sweetheart, but the most dangerous man in the world. He walks to the center of the floor and greets her by name, commenting that the stole fits her well. Egwene is surprised at his calm, and wonders if he has given up, but thinks it is something else. She asks what has happened to him.

“I was broken,” Rand said, hands behind his back. “And then, remarkably, I was reforged. I think he almost had me, Egwene. It was Cadsuane who set me to fixing it, though she did so by accident. Still, I shall have to lift her exile, I suspect.”

She thinks he sounds more cultured and educated than he should. She asks whether he has come to surrender himself to the White Tower’s guidance. Rand studies her and the other sisters in the room, and admits that he has hated the Aes Sedai before, but in avoiding their strings, he allowed more dangerous ones to be tied to him. He says he worried that if he listened to them they would control him.

“It wasn’t a desire for independence that drove me, but a fear of irrelevance. A fear that the acts I accomplished would be yours, and not my own.” He hesitated. “I should have wished for such a convenient set of backs upon which to heap the blame for my crimes.”

Egwene worries that he has gone completely mad, and tells Rand she wants some sisters to talk to him and see if there is anything wrong with him. Rand smiles, and tells her he is sorry, but he has too much to do and too little time to do it. He says that he regrets that he has to come into her center of power and then defy her, but it had to be done so that he could tell her his plan. He says that the last time he tried to seal the Bore, he was forced to do it without the women, and while there is blame on both sides for that, he will not make the same mistake twice.

Light, she thought. I’m wrong. I can’t think of him only as the Dragon Reborn. I’m here for a reason. He’s here for a reason. To me, he must be Rand. Because Rand can be trusted, while the Dragon Reborn must be feared.

“Which are you?” she whispered unconsciously.

He heard. “I am both, Egwene. I remember him. Lews Therin. I can see his entire life, every desperate moment. I see it like a dream, but a clear dream. My own dream. It’s part of me.”

He tells her that in one month’s time, he is going to Shayol Ghul to break the last remaining seal on the Dark One’s prison, and that he will meet with them the day before and give them his terms. Egwene realizes this is what her Dream about the crystal sphere meant. He goes to leave, and she rises and shouts that he will not turn his back on her. Rand stops and turns back.

“You can’t break the seals,” Egwene said. “That would risk letting the Dark One free.”

“A risk we must take. Clear away the rubble. The Bore must be opened fully again before it can be sealed.”

Egwene says they must discuss this, and other things, like the sisters his men have bonded, and Rand replies they can discuss that next time they meet. He formally asks her permission to withdraw.

She met his eyes. Don’t make me do anything I would regret, his expression seemed to say.

Could she really confine him here? After what she’d said to Elaida about him needing to be free?

“I will not let you break the seals,” she said. “That is madness.”

“Then meet with me at the place known as the Field of Merrilor, just to the north. We will talk before I go to Shayol Ghul. For now, I do not want to defy you, Egwene. But I must go.”

Neither of them looked away. The others in the room seemed not to breathe. The chamber was still enough for Egwene to hear the faint breeze making the rose window groan in its lead.

“Very well,” Egwene said. “But this is not ended, Rand.”

“There are no endings, Egwene,” he replied, then nodded to her and turned to walk from the Hall.

After he is gone, Silviana asks Egwene how she could even think during “that”, and Egwene doesn’t know what she means. Barasine says she felt like something was “gripping her heart”, and Yukiri says she tried to speak, but couldn’t. Saerin names it ta’veren, but so strong she felt it could crush her. Egwene is puzzled that she had not felt what the rest did, but dismisses it to order that the Hall shall convene to discuss the matter. Silviana agrees that Rand cannot be allowed to break the seals, but wonders what they are to do if Egwene refuses to hold him captive. Egwene replies that she got the sense that they couldn’t have done so anyway, and that they needed allies.

“He might be persuaded by people that he trusts.” Or he might be forced to change his mind if confronted by a large enough group united to stop him.

It was now more vital that she speak with Elayne and Nynaeve.

So, if you look up the word “fraught” in the dictionary, you won’t find this chapter. But you probably should.

The tension here was unbelievable, in my opinion, and no less so on re-reading it than the first time – probably because from my current point of view as a reader, this is not a completed confrontation; this was just the set-up for what’s going to happen on the Field of Tolkien Shoutouts Merrilor in AMoL.

I was frankly astonished that the whole thing didn’t go spectacularly south, myself. Though it made more sense that it didn’t once Rand left, and the others revealed they had all been paralyzed by Rand’s Awesomely Awesome Aura Of Ta’veren Awesomeness, which is apparently so freakin’ awesome it’s like catching a deer in headlights and then SPLABAM!

Just kidding. I think.

By the way, this makes at least twice now that Egwene has successfully resisted the power of Rand’s Awesome ta’veren, and while Jordan is I believe on record as saying Egwene is definitely not ta’veren herself, I’m beginning to think there’s definitely something innate and perhaps Talent-related there, because she really seems to be damn near unique in that respect. I’m just saying.

(Although, it belatedly occurs to me that Siuan wasn’t flopping around like a fish out of water (ha) while talking to Rand in this chapter either, so maybe it really is just as simple as that being someone who even nominally knows him as a person lessens the effect. Or, alternately, he just hadn’t flicked on the high beams, IYKWIMAITYD, until he was inside the Hall. So, never mind, maybe.)

As for the actual confrontation itself, well, I am afraid that as usual I am not going to be a great deal of help in the ongoing Egwene Sucks! / Egwene Rules! Debate in the comments, because I am coming down pretty firmly in the arena of Switzerland in this particular iteration. By which I mean, I don’t think she did do a particularly good job of handling Rand here, actually – but I also don’t think she can really be blamed for that.

‘Cause, you know, it may behoove us all to remember that just because we know this new Zen Master Jesus Rand guy and the epiphany that made him that way is the real deal, having had the omniscient reader’s privilege of being in Rand’s head at the time, doesn’t mean this doesn’t look like just one more iteration of Supa Crazy Schizo Rand to everyone else. Egwene treats him like a dangerous madman here, and it is exasperatingly unproductive, but literally less than twenty-four hours earlier she would have been completely correct to do so.

(Well. Twenty-four hours ago a confrontation between her and Rand would have almost certainly resulted in a smoking crater where the Tower had been, so maybe saying it would have been the correct thing to do is not the right way to phrase that, but I can’t see how any other approach other than blind groveling – which would so never happen – wouldn’t have resulted in the same thing anyway, so it’s probably a moot point. And hell, blind groveling just might have set him off too. TGS-era Rand was pretty much just looking for an excuse to lose his shit, after all.)

And Rand, honestly, is not really making his case for being not-crazy to anyone not dazed by his stupefying Beam of Amazingness – like, say, Egwene – with his talking about things Lews Therin had done thousands of years ago as if they were things Rand al’Thor did last week. Again, sure, we get that everything’s all hunky dory in there now (or at least, er, hunky dorier), but to anyone else, that’s just crazy talk, not to put too fine a point on it.

All that said, while I understand why Egwene reacted the way she did, this is not to say that I am not frustrated by that reaction. But as Rand himself once observed, this is not like the stories where the chosen one shows up and is all “Behold!” and then everyone else is all “Yay!”, and falls in to beat up the bad guy, the end. (He may not have, you know, phrased it quite like that, but whatever.) Those kinds of stories may be less stressful, but they also kind of suck.

It also cannot be missed that Rand and Egwene are acting out a parallel drama to the one that occurred between Lews Therin and Latra Posae the last time the world had to go through this crap, and then as now I don’t think blame can be fully laid on either side, but rather on both. The obvious task here for Rand and Egwene is to make sure that history does not repeat itself, literally.

Also, unlike (I suspect) some readers, on reflection I actually applaud Egwene’s demand that Rand treat her as an equal even though my kneejerk reaction was to resent it. Because yes, Rand is the savior of the world and all, but he’s already acknowledged that he will not be able to save anything if he does not have the women with him this time, and ergo, that means Egwene is just as essential to the mission as he is, and, honestly, ought to have equal say. You can quibble about that, maybe, but for my money that fact, plus the fact that Egwene is essentially the closest thing Randland has to a supreme leader of the continent, makes it not only appropriate but necessary that she assert her equality to him, and that she demand – and receive – his respect.

Not to mention, the narrative function of the women in Rand’s life in WOT has always, always been to humanize him. To keep him on an even keel, by reminding him that he is not, in fact, All That, and that he is human and has needs and makes mistakes and should probably eat something, dammit. And unconsciously or not, that is still what Egwene is doing here.

Plus there is that whole overarching symbolic theme thingy with the female and the male and the yin and the yang and the Guardians balancing the Servants and the world never healing itself until the men and the women can work together and stuff probably having something to do with it. It’s, like, cosmical, you guys.

Of course, if it all goes horrifically wrong at Merrilor and the Aes Sedai end up in a pitched battle with the Asha’man, I will totally call “my bad” on the whole business, but I tend to think it’ll probably work out. Especially since Rand tacitly acknowledged, by asking Egwene’s permission to withdraw, that she was right – even if he was still a bit of a dick about it. Heh.

…Actually, it looks like once again I ended up coming down pretty solidly on the “Egwene Rules!” side of the debate, didn’t I? Ah well. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Swiss cheese anyway.

As a last note on Rand and Egwene, I would just like to remind everyone that this scene means Mat is now the undisputed champion among the main characters in the “who goes for the longest without being in the same room as Rand” contest. At this point, I’m not entirely sure what the count is in internal chronology, but it’s been at minimum eight months in story time since Mat and Rand have seen each other. In reader time? Seventeen years and counting. Just FYI.

Other notes:

Egwene’s Dreams: I saw that a couple of people in the comments to the previous entry were contesting that I was wrong, that the titular Towers of Midnight did refer to the towers in Seanchan we see in the wind opener of Chapter 1. And maybe they are right, but for my money I always assumed the title was referring to Egwene’s Dream here.

And of course, it also seemed obvious that the “towers” she Dreams about aren’t actually towers at all, but are meant to represent the thirteen Forsaken. In her Dream, all but six of the towers have fallen, and all but six of the Forsaken are (permanently) dead at this point in the story: Demandred, Graendal, Lanfear/Cyndane, Mesaana, Moghedien, and Ishamael/Moridin, who is obviously the tower that almost fell but rose up again to dwarf the others. So, assuming I’m right, that makes at least a little more sense (in my opinion) than the idea that the whole book is named after some random towers in Seanchan that have no bearing on the Randland mainland whatsoever.

Though it does still strike me as being a tad wonky even so, because I don’t seem to recall that the Forsaken as a group have any more to do in this plot of this book than they do in any of the others. Demandred is, as frickin’ usual, Sir Villain Not Appearing In This Novel, Moghedien is also a no-show, and Moridin and Cyndane each only show up for a hot second. Sure, Mesaana and Graendal have lots to do in ToM, but then why name the book after the whole kit and caboodle? I dunno, it’s weird. Oh, well.

As for the other two Dreams, the serpent and eagle one is so obvious the text doesn’t even try to be coy about it, and the last one is explained pretty succinctly by the end of the chapter. Though I do have to say my attention was caught by the line saying the sphere was bathed in “the light of twenty-three enormous stars”.

That’s… an awfully specific number. I racked my brains for a while trying to remember if there were any significant groups of items or people lying around in WOT that happened to number twenty-three, but I got nothing. Anyone? Bueller?

This is also an interesting little nugget:

Dreams were not Foretellings—they didn’t show what would happen, but what could.

Really. Because I do not think we had been told that in so many words before this. This smells like it has implications. Hmm. I may come back to this.

There was a nice little by-play between Siuan and Bryne in this chapter that I mostly left out, but I do have to say that I quite enjoy their snarky relationship now that all the awkwardly-rendered Unresolved Sexual Tension is thankfully in the past. I also got the impression that this was meant as a little bit of a wrap-up for Siuan’s character arc as a whole, as she reflects that she is content in her role now. Also, the fact that Rand singled her out contributes to that impression, as it seems a bit like a formal acknowledgment of her small-but-pivotal role in setting him on his fated path.

All of which makes me glad for her, but also makes me a smidge worried for the likelihood of her survival past the end of AMoL. Er.

And, okay, what was the deal with Tiana and the note? I didn’t even remember this happened until I re-read it just now, so I have to assume that whatever the note contains, we haven’t learned about it yet. Tiana was the Mistress of Novices in the Rebel camp (though I have no idea if she replaced Silviana in that capacity in the reunited Tower or not), and it’s clear from what she says that she’s giving the note to him on someone else’s behalf, so the only thing I could think was that maybe the note came from Nicola – given to Tiana before she ran away, of course, though I’m not sure why Tiana would have agreed to be an unruly novice’s errand-girl. But if so, that could mean it contains some posthumous Foretellings from Nicola, which would be cool because we really only got one or two prophecies out of her (on-screen) before she bit it in TGS. We’ll see, I guess.

And I am Done, boys and girls! Have a lovely week, and I will see you next time!


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