Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: Fiery Magic and Icy Distrust in Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World (Part 3)

Dramatic irony is a tool used by authors, often to increase suspense or to set the scene for a future action, in which the audience knows something that the characters don’t. Like when Romeo doesn’t get the message about the Priest’s plan and thinks Juliet has actually died, but the audience knows the truth and can only watch, helpless, as he kills himself to be with her. Dramatic irony can be employed in a variety of ways in stories, but sometimes an aspect of dramatic irony can be created that is outside of the author’s control; like if you’re watching an action movie and the hero thinks the bad guy has been defeated but the audience knows there’s still almost an hour left in the film, guaranteeing at least one more battle scene. Or when Mat decides that he and Rand and Perrin have escaped the Draghkar, “if it was ever really after [them]” and that they don’t need to go to Tar Valon after all. Meanwhile the reader is shaking their head thinking, Oh, honey. We’re only 180 pages in! Of the first book! But Mat is kinda cute anyway, and his role as the Peregrin Took of the party is about to become even more obvious.

Welcome back to week three of Reading The Wheel of Time! We’re going to cover the stay at Baerlon today, and watch Mat (and Rand) figure out how to make everything just a little more dangerous for everyone. There will be new additions to our cast as well (more ladies, hurray!) and the narrative will begin to show us just a little more of what the One Power can do.

This week’s installment of Reading The Wheel of Time covers Chapters 14 through 17.

At the Stag and Lion, the travelers are met by Master Fitch, the innkeeper, who appears to know and greatly respect “Alys” (Moiraine) and “Andra” (Lan), and despite the unconventional entrance the party makes through the back gate of the inn, they are welcomed heartily and offered room and baths and anything they could wish, although Master Fitch does admit that the inn is quite full. Moiraine asks about the Children of the Light and then after someone named “Min,” but the boys and Thom are off to a bath before Rand can overhear anything. While bathing, Rand and his friends get into an uncomfortable conversation with the bath attendant who asks about trouble in the Two Rivers, and mentions rumors of Trollocs. Mat is all too eager to share their story, and it takes Thom, Perrin and Rand jumping over his sentences and Lan suddenly showing up and getting rid of the attendant to keep him from giving away something he shouldn’t.

After his bath, Rand glimpses Moiraine talking with a girl wearing men’s clothing, but Moiraine says nothing about her as they go to dinner. In a private dining room they sit and eat, and Rand considers apologizing to Egwene for his behavior, but she turns her back on him before he can say anything, so he lets it go. As they eat, Lan fills them in on what gossip he learned from the common room, inducing that Logain, the man calling himself the new Dragon, won a great battle at Ghealdan. The gatekeeper has already told them of this, and that some rumors say that the Aes Sedai were all killed, but Lan didn’t hear any information to either corroborate or dismiss that information. It is decided that the party will stay for two nights at the inn, to rest and recuperate, although after Mat’s recklessness in the bathing room, Thom and Lan are a little skeptical that the boys can stay out of trouble.

That night, Rand has a long and horrible dream, in which he is walking in a long shadowy hallway. Thirsty, he follows the sound of dripping water, but is unable to find it, so he opens one of the many doors in the hallway. There he finds himself in a chamber, one wall open to a balcony and a red and grey storm-torn sky. There is a fireplace with stones that look like writing faces in the corner of Rand’s eye, and a mirror which reflects the place but somehow only shows Rand as a blurry image.

Suddenly there is also a man there, a handsome man but one with an uncanny sense about him. When he speaks Rand sees his mouth and eyes full of flame, and he tries to retreat, but he only finds himself entering the same room through a different door, the man waiting for him still. Rand is terrified, trying to tell himself he is dreaming, but the man asks him if it is a dream, and whether that matters. He offers Rand a drink from a goblet, one that Rand almost accepts, but at the last moment decides not have. The man seems disappointed.

Rand asks his name, and is horrified when the man replies that some call him Ba’alzamon, the name of the Dark One. He tries again to escape, but the door will not open, and Ba’alzamon asks Rand if he is “the one.” He tells Rand that he cannot escape him, asks him if he seeks glory and power, tells him that the White Tower will use him like a puppet, and consume him. Rand bites back when Ba’alzamon insultes Rand’s parents, but he cannot sustain enough anger to protect himself. Ba’alzamon tells Rand of his great deeds, the places he has destroyed with his Trollocs and evil army, great men he has driven to kill, and of Lews Therin, who Ba’alzamon drove insane, causing him to kill his wife and family.

When Rand tries again to tell himself that he is dreaming, Ba’alzamon mocks him and uses his power to cause a rat to bend slowly backward until its spine snaps. He suggests that if Rand is so sure this is a dream then he should go to the Aes Sedai, to the White Tower. He asks if Rand is enough of a fool to believe that they will let him live, knowing of his dream, and then begins to bend Rand’s back as he did the rat’s. Only then does Rand wake up, horrified and headachey, but also asking himself if the dream really was bad enough for him to ask Moiraine’s help, and if he has any choice in the matter, anyway.

When Rand wakes the next morning he discovers, much to his dismay, that dead rats have been found all throughout the inn, all with their backs broken. What’s more, he discovers that Perrin has had the same dream, and possibly Mat as well. Like Rand, Perrin isn’t sure that they can trust Moiraine. Rand isn’t able to convince Perrin to get out of bed, so he decides to go find Mat, who is out somewhere exploring the city. But in the stableyard Rand runs into someone else, Min, the girl in men’s clothes who knows Moiraine.

Min tells Rand that she can see things about people, and sometimes know what they mean. She tells Rand some of what she sees about each of his companions, including Rand himself, and that when they are together she sees sparks around them, “thousands of them, and a big shadow, darker than midnight.” and that “The sparks are trying to fill the shadow, and the shadow is trying to swallow the sparks.”

Rand is unsettled by Min’s descriptions of her vision as well as what she clearly knows about the party, including Moiraine’s real name, and gets away from her as quickly as he can. He explores the city, marveling at all the shops and all the people, until he discovers someone he knows, Fain, the peddler everyone assumes was killed by Trollocs. He is dressed in rags and is extremely wary of Rand, who tells the man that he is traveling with Moiraine and the name of the inn they are staying in. Fain seems very frightened of even the mention of the Aes Sedai, but also interested. He makes Rand promise not to tell Moiraine about him, and then takes the first opportunity to get away from Rand.

Rand knocks over someone while chasing the peddler, but that someone coincidentally turns out to be Mat. Rand asks if Mat also had the dream (he did) and tells him about the real life rats in the inn. Mat also agrees that they shouldn’t tell Moiraine, but as they are heading back to meet up with Perrin, they encounter the Whitecloaks in the street. All this time Rand has felt his headache building, has felt himself struggling for the ability to focus on anything. Now, even though he is distantly aware that he should be frightened and cautious around the Children of the Light, as Moiraine and Lan warned them to be, he feels only amusement and derision towards them, a feeling Mat apparently shares. He decides to play a prank on the men, and uses his slingshot to cause some barrels to fall off a cart and roll towards the Whitecloaks, splattering their smart outfits with mud. When the men see Rand laughing and amused they have a confrontation, Rand going so far as to almost bait them as the question his involvement in the accident and his identity. The heron-marked sword Rand’s father gave him also attracts notice, and it is only the Town Watch arriving that keeps them all from coming to blows.

Mat returns to Rand’s side, shocked at his friend’s behavior. Rand is shocked too, the weird feeling in his head and fuzzy feeling vanishing suddenly. They retreat back to the inn at once, running into Thom on the way and telling him about the dream. As soon as the name Ba’alzamon is mentioned, Thom becomes very anxious, telling the boys to be more careful saying such things. He tells them that the names Ba’alzamon gave, names of men he claimed he ruined or that the White Tower used as puppets, are real names, that they were all false dragons, some of whom lived thousands of years ago. He agrees with the boys’ consensus not to tell Moiraine, at least not yet. However they soon have other things on their mind; they meet Perrin in the stableyard and learn that Nynaeve has come to find them, and that she is inside waiting for them. With Moiraine.

Once again Min is there to tell Rand that she also saw the sparks between Moiraine and Nynaeve, and that she sees greater danger for the party now that Nynaeve has arrived. Rand and his friends go inside to find the two women sitting on opposite ends of the table, locked in some kind of staring contest. Both Perrin and Rand observe that the room feels icy cold. Nynaeve is convinced that Moiraine spirited the young people away from their village, and is skeptical when everyone insists in turns that the boys are the danger to the village and that they are safer with Moiraine than back in the Two Rivers. Moiraine asks everyone to leave so she can continue to speak with Nynaeve in private. Afterwards, Rand talks to Nynaeve, who tells him that he has grown since she last saw him. She tells how she decided to be the one who left home to find him and the others, and when Rand asks what Moiraine said to her, Nynaeve reveals that the Aes Sedai was curious to know if any of the boy was born outside of the Two Rivers. Rand tells her what Tam said in his delirium, and Nynaeve assures him that he is his father and mother’s child, although he was born while Tam was away from his home. Rand feels reassured, but only a little. Nynaeve isn’t sure whether she will believe Moiraine about the danger to Rand and Mat and Perrin, but she certainly kept the truth of Rand’s birth from her.

That night everyone gathers in the common room of the inn to hear Thom tell his tales and to listen to music and dance. During the frivolities, Rand notices a man with a prominent scar on his face, and when he mentions him to Lan, the warder identifies him as a spy for the Whitecloaks. He claims that they don’t have anything to fear from the man, but he also seems apprehensive, sensing that something is wrong, and tells the party that they will be leaving Baerlon very early in the morning. But that same night Rand is confronted in the hallway by the sudden appearance of a Myrddraal. Rand is frozen by his terror, unable to speak or move, and the Myrddraal raises its sword apparently to kill him, but then stops, telling him that he “belongs to the Great Lord of the Dark” and disappearing into the shadows at the same moment that Lan comes running.

The party leaves at once, including Nynaeve and Thom, and Lan and Moiraine manage to persuade the guard at the gate to let them out even though it is after dark. But as the gate is being opened the Children of the Light appear, questioning their reasons for leaving in the night, and one of them, their leader, recognizes Rand. He declares that he is arresting them, believing them all to be Darkfriends. But Moiraine is having none of that, and suddenly appears to grow taller, distracting the Whitecloaks as Lan gets everyone out through the open gate. Moiraine grows so tall she can step over the wall, then joins the rest of the party and returns to her normal size. As they ride, they can see burning in the city behind them; the Stag and Lion. Nynaeve blames Moiraine for the destruction of the inn and the pain caused to its owners and residents, and they argue briefly about whether it would be right to return to help, before everyone has to concede that the best thing they can do to protect other people from danger is to get away as fast as possible.

* * *

So the bath scene is as direct an homage to The Fellowship of the Ring as we have yet seen, and it’s capped off by Mat, despite multiple warnings, trying to talk about their adventures just like Pippin did while the hobbits were staying at the Prancing Pony. It’s kind of funny how Mat can’t even understand what the others are doing as they desperately try to stop him from talking about Trollocs, but it also speaks to a level of innocence beyond even that of Perrin or Rand. Mat may be the same age as the other two boys, but he certainly seems younger, and he is established as a careless and prank-loving character even before the incident with the Whitecloaks.

The encounter with the Whitecloaks is also quite reminiscent of Fellowship‘s scene at the Prancing Pony, because for all that Mat’s actions are completely uncomprehending of the true danger posed by the Children of the Light, it is Rand who does the most damage under the sway of whatever strange power is affecting him. Just as the Ring slipping onto Frodo’s finger at the worst possible moment is much more dangerous for him than Pippin’s big mouth, Rand’s compulsion to deride and bait the Whitecloaks, to allow them to observe him and his distinctive sword, puts him in a very serious position. He is incredibly fortunate that luck is on his side and the arrival of the Town Watch compels the Whitecloaks to leave him.

But worse, I think, than either of these, is Rand’s carelessness in telling Fain about Moiraine’s presence and about the party’s location at the Stag and Lion. Unlike Mat, Rand has understood their danger more or less from the beginning, and he knows to be cautious around people like the bath attendant, the kindly innkeeper, or Min. But just because he knows Fain from the peddler’s visits to the Two Rivers, he seems to think nothing of the secrecy they’ve all agreed to keep. Fain’s distrust of Moiraine is clear enough, but I think there is something more to his insistence that Rand promise not to tell her about him. I suspect it is Fain who tipped of the Whitecloaks to send a spy to the Stag and Lion, resulting in the party being waylaid at the gate.

They weren’t prepared for that display from Moiraine, though! When Egwene remarks upon how large Moiraine became, the Aes Sedai answers that “the eye sees what is not there,” suggesting that the way she grew large and the timbre of her voice were illusions she cast, rather than a physical manifestation of her use of saidar–the gates don’t start to shut until after she has apparently stepped over the wall, so she could easily have actually gone through them.

There’s no description of anyone feeling cold here, in fact we get the impression of heat instead from the staff that melts the Whitecloak leader’s sword. However, I did notice that the description of Moiraine and Nynaeve’s silent confrontation seemed to support my theory that the feeling of cold is associated with the use of the One Power. “Despite the fire” the description reads “it seemed freezing cold, and all coming from the two women at the table.”

By contrast, whatever happened to Rand when he was confronted by the Whitecloaks, clearly an evil influence, wherever it came from, is described as a tingling heat, which increases almost until he feels “as if he were burning up.” Even the evil healing power used on Lews Telamon in the Prologue had an element of heat in its description;–“fire seared his marrow” and “every pulse gushed new flame through him.”

This all raises more questions about how the One Power works, what its strength and limitations are, as well as questions about the ability of the Dark One to reach out from whatever place he is apparently bound to. It also begins to spin a theme about trust, or rather of distrust, that seems already to be having a profound affect on the players in this story. Rand, Perrin, Mat, and Thom are all still highly suspicious of Moiraine, her motives, and her use of her Power. It may be that Ba’alzamon is right that the Aes Sedai might kill Rand if they knew about his dream; after all Moiraine has said before that she would kill any of the boys rather than let the Dark One use them for his purposes. But I think it even more likely that the suggestion is meant to sow further distrust and uncertainty in the boys against what appears to be the only person who can protect them. Like Fain making Rand promise not to tell Moiraine that he is in Baerlon, Ba’alzamon is trying to keep the Aes Sedai from learning about what he is doing.

And as for Mat? I suppose we will see if he has learned his lesson about taking things seriously. I kind of doubt it, though.

For those of you reading along, I won’t be doing any new chapters next week, but rather revisiting events and themes from the prologue and the chapters I have covered so far. We’ll talk some more about magic and the True Source as we tackle the idea of prophecy, fate, and reincarnation in The Wheel of Time. Meanwhile, watch your spoilers in the comments and don’t tell strange paranoid peddlers where you’re sleeping!

Sylas K Barrett would like to remind everyone that he called it. Nynaeve is back! Sylas has a feeling that he is really going to like Nynaeve.


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