Welcome once and again to week six of Reading The Wheel of Time. In this installment, I’m going to cover Chapters 21 through 23, and I’m really excited because we’re moving into chapters that are told from different characters’ points of view. And I have to say, I am really enjoying the change in perspective. Rand is a fine character, but I haven’t felt very connected to him, at least since the group left the Two Rivers. I’m really enjoying the shake up, and it feels like the story is broadening as the perspectives do. I hope we eventually get to spend time with each of our heroes.
Chapter 21 finds dawn awakening Nynaeve and her horse as they sleep near the bank of the Arinelle. Nynaeve is cross with herself for falling asleep, thinking that she could have “awakened in a Trolloc cook pot,” but as she thinks back over the harrowing events of the night before she remembers being eventually cornered by Trollocs, only to have them sniff the air around her and then move off. Nynaeve has to admit that this must mean that Moiraine was right about the enemy being after the boys, specifically. Not knowing where any of the others ended up, Nynaeve scans the far bank but sees nothing to indicate that the Two Rivers folk or anyone else are nearby, so she sets off down her side of the river hoping to come across someone, if anyone else survived. Using her skills as a tracker she scans the ground for signs of the party, but has difficulty telling if their marks are anywhere amongst the tracks of the Trollocs. Eventually, however, she smells smoke, and decides to approach it, cautiously in case it’s the enemy’s fire instead of her friends. She sneaks up to the encampment, but sure enough, she finds Lan and Moiraine, together with their horses. As Nynaeve sits hidden in the bushes, she listens to Lan and Moiraine discuss the Trollocs and learns that they are very concerned about how so many Trollocs were able to arrive in the area and disappear again just as mysteriously. She also learns that Moiraine is aware of where the boys went, that one is across the river and the other two have traveled down it, but that the trail there has faded because “the bond had been broken”. Moiraine begins to talk about how desperate she is to find the boys again and mentions that she anticipates some resistance from some of the other Aes Sedai, but then breaks off, straightening up and looking straight at Nynaeve in her hiding place.
Discovered, Nynaeve immediately goes on the offensive, accusing Moiraine of getting the boys involved in some “filthy Aes Sedai” plot, but Moiraine simply responds that Nynaeve can wield the One Power herself. Nynaeve is sharply resistant to the suggestion, but Moiraine wears her down slowly, pointing out that an Aes Sedai can sense another user of the power, hence her awareness that Nynaeve was nearby or her ability to know Nynaeve was the village Wisdom without being told. She talks of Nynaeve’s incredible skill at healing, at understanding the weather and predicting seasons and crop harvests–listening to the wind, the Wisdoms call it, but Moiraine knows it is the power of Water and Air. She talks, too, of Nynaeve’s ability to sense the same ability in Egwene, and finally she is able to describe an event of Nynaeve’s life so precisely that Nynaeve can no longer deny the truth, however much she tries. She admits to having a connection to Egwene after healing the girl from “breakbone fever” when they were both young. A week later she briefly collapsed with a fever and chills, but that passed quickly.
Moiraine explains that while some women who touch the Power on their own do learn a sort of rudimentary control over it, three out of four never learn it without help, and those who cannot are eventually killed by the reactions to accidentally touching the True Source. That is why Moiraine wanted to take Egwene to Tar Valon with them, and she tries to encourage Nynaeve to consider becoming an Aes Sedai as well, but Nynaeve, however forced she is to admit to her abilities, recoils from the idea. She asks Moiraine not to tell anyone about Nynaeve’s gift, and then returns to the subject of Mat and Rand and Perrin. But Moiraine only repeats that the Dark One wants the boys and therefore she opposes him getting them. She suggests that she doesn’t believe that Nynaeve will come with them, but Nynaeve angrily insists that Moiraine cannot drive her away. As Lan packs and fetches Nynaeve’s horse from where she left it, Nynaeve and Moiraine have another argument, this time about which of the Emond’s Fielders to search for. Moiraine explains that the coins she gave the boys created a sort of bond between her and them, allowing her to know if they have been killed and to locate them. Nynaeve asks why she isn’t going to look for the boy across the river, or for Egwene who is also missing. When Moiraine insists that following the boys south, the ones who have apparently lost their coins, is the most logical course, as they are clearly the ones in need of help, Nynaeve becomes angry. The argument goes much the same as the argument Moiraine had with the Two Rivers folk after leaving Baerlon, with Moiraine’s calm logic and determination to take the course best able to continue her fight against the Dark One winning out, and Nynaeve struggling in the face of the possible consequences of the difficult decision. She turns away, trying to hide tears as she contemplates that she may not be able to save all her charges, and is disgruntled when Lan sees them. They depart together, Nynaeve doing her best to hide both her fear and her anger, but determined that she will make Moiraine pay if Egwene or even one of the boys comes to harm.
Meanwhile, Perrin wakes up in woods on the far side of the river, cold and hungry and worried about Egwene. Deciding that he doesn’t have time to look for food or even to make a fire to dry his clothes by, he sets off down river, careful to keep behind cover so that he isn’t spotted by any Trollocs that might have been lingering on the other bank. Eventually he comes across hoof prints he recognizes, and follows them to find Egwene by a fire she has made under a large tree, safe from prying eyes. She has managed to keep her horse and supplies, and she gets him warm and gives him some bread and cheese to eat. They try to decide what to do next, and Perrin suggests that it doesn’t make sense to wait and see if Moiraine can find them, since they have no way of knowing if she or anyone else is still alive. He’s surprised when Egwene defers to his judgement, but he decides that they should cut away from the river that would lead them to Whitebridge and go cross-country to reach Caemlyn. This way he hopes to avoid any Trollocs and Fades pursuing them, and to encounter a farm or someone to give them directions along the way. And if Moiraine doesn’t find them in Caemlyn they will go on to Tar Valon on their own. Egwene makes a point of rationing the remaining bread and cheese, since it might have to last them some time, and then the two set off on their new path.
Egwene continues to defer to Perrin’s leadership–to a point, anyway. They argue about taking turns riding Bella, and Perrin reflects that leaders in the stories were never bullied. The first night Perrin manages to catch a rabbit, but when he brings it back to Egwene for cooking, he learns that she does not have a flint to light a fire, and had in fact used the One Power the night before, although now she can’t seem to find the ability again. Perrin is upset, and tries to make her promise not to use the Power ever again, but Egwene refuses, likening such a promise to Perrin giving up his axe or walking around with one hand tied behind his back. She continues to try every night, although without any more success.
They also don’t have any more success hunting rabbits or finding a farm to ask directions at, and wander hungry and worried as Perrin is plagued by nightmares of Ba’alzamon chasing him through mazes. He hides the nightmares from Egwene. Eventually they happen across the scent of someone cooking rabbit, and approach cautiously. Egwene isn’t sure caution is needed, but Perrin makes her wait while he scouts ahead to see who is there. He discovers a strange figure roasting rabbits over his fire, a lean tan man dressed in animal skins and furs, and although it seems impossible for him to see Perrin (his eyes are even closed) he knows that Perrin is there immediately and invites both him and Egwene to come eat. He introduces himself as Elyas Machera, and as they shake hands Perrin is shocked to see that Elyas’s eyes are yellow. But despite the man’s strangeness and the fact that he admits that he has been watching Perrin and Egwene for two days, the two are hungry enough to overlook almost anything. Until the wolves arrive. Elyas introduces four large wolves as his friends, and says that he can communicate with them, and Perrin recognizes that Elyas’s yellow eyes are just like the wolves’. Elyas explains that the ability used to exist between men and wolves, who hunted together, although it was so long ago that even the wolves barely remember it. He says the wolves found him, recognizing the ability in him before he knew about it himself. And he says that Perrin also has the same ability.
When Perrin and Egwene tell him the carefully constructed and rehearsed tale of who they are and where they are going, Elyas informs them that the wolves say their story is all lies, and things get tense with the wolves until Perrin relents and tells the truth. Elyas tells them he doesn’t care for Aes Sedai and suggests that they stay with him, that even Egwene is welcome. But Perrin insists that they must continue on to Caemlyn. One of the wolves, called Burn by Elyas, doesn’t like the idea of getting any closer to humans or consorting with anyone mixed up with Trollocs, but the leader, a female called Dapple, communicates with the others and with Elyas that they will all travel with Perrin and Egwene and guide them to their destination. All the time, Perrin tells himself that he has no such ability to talk to wolves, but he also finds that he can tell which is which, and sense their feelings.
Apparently this is an unpopular opinion, but I think Nynaeve might be my favorite character at this point. I’m the oldest of my siblings, and so the fact that Nynaeve is not much older than Egwene and Rand and Perrin and Mat and yet is in an important position as caretaker and guardian over them is something that really resonates with me. Rand might view Nynaeve as bossy and intimidating (in a bad way), but even in the beginning of the book, I got a sense of Nynaeve as being very dedicated and passionate about the people in her charge. She might insist that following the missing youths all the way to Baerlon is what any Wisdom would do, but I’m not so sure. Her special connection to Egwene explains her choice to go herself rather than send some of the men of the village, but it’s clear that Nynaeve feels a very specific and personal responsibility for each and every person in the Two Rivers. And I think this might be some of the struggle she is having in accepting Moiraine. When she argues with Moiraine during the flight from Baerlon and again when the decision is made to follow the river and not look for Egwene or the boy they know is across the river, it can seem like the Wisdom is being childish or naive. But we have seen that Nynaeve does have the ability to face hard truths, such as her attitude when she realizes that she does not have the ability to heal Tam. Instead, the differences between these two women is one of perspective. Nynaeve’s charge is every person in her village. Moiraine’s charge is not actually people, but the Light itself, and she must choose a path that serves that responsibility effectively, however she might care about the people she encounters. I think Nynaeve will have a lot to learn as her story continues, but I wonder what path her journey will take. Will her focus always be on individual people above all? Or will she, knowing that she has the Power and the ability to be an Aes Sedai, develop a more Moiraine-like perspective?
I am curious about the bond between Nynaeve and Egwene. It seems from what Moiraine says that this type of connection happens frequently. Do all Aes Sedai become connected to anyone they heal this way? Does Nynaeve have a similar connection with other people in the village, and for that matter, is Moiraine connected to Tam now? If not, what are the parameters for establishing such a bond? It seems like too many of these connections could hamper Moiraine’s ability to keep her broader, more objective perspective. Are any Aes Sedai reticent to use their abilities to heal because of this effect? If I’m honest, I’m a bit of a sucker for magical/spiritual connections between people, like the ones Jedi masters have with their padawans. But if Nynaeve has this connection with Egwene that allowed her to find the Stag and Lion so easily, how can she not find Egwene now? It seems like Egwene (and Perrin) are not very far away across the river yet, so Nynaeve should be able to use the same ability to track Egwene again!
Possible plot hole aside, in these chapters, both Nynaeve and Perrin are asked to face something about themselves that they are not ready to accept. In contrast to Egwene’s discovery of her own ability and her excitement over learning to be an Aes Sedai, Nynaeve’s reaction is one of anger and fear, and Perrin’s is incredulous and untrusting. But it’s unclear at this point exactly what Perrin’s hesitation about his ability is. It could be because the idea of communicating with wolves is so outside of anything in his experience, or perhaps because the talent just seems too close to the powers of the Aes Sedai, which Perrin, like everyone except Egwene, is highly suspicious of. But it might also have something to do with the way Perrin thinks of himself, and the way others seem to see him. In Chapter 22, Perrin thinks about how he is used to people reacting with surprise when he claims to have an idea, because “even when his ideas were as good as theirs, they always remembered how deliberate he was in thinking of them.” And it’s clear that while Perrin might not think that reaction is fair, he does consider himself to be slower and more deliberate than others. A miraculous power to communicate with wolves through what appears to be some kind of wordless thought and emotional transfer might fly very much in the face of what Perrin understands about himself. He kind of bounces off the idea, skirting the edges of acknowledgement of his ability to read the wolves but never really spending much thought on it.
Nynaeve’s attitude to being told about her gift is a much more deliberate rejection. As a queer person, it’s impossible for me not to draw a parallel between Nynaeve’s reaction and my own struggle with my personal identity. I can perfectly imagine Nynaeve, as a young apprentice Wisdom, having a sense of something different about herself, a feeling that she shies away from recognizing. Since magic is viewed in her part of the world as being problematic at best and a connection to the Dark One at worst, it is something that she feels is wrong and evil. It is a form of self protection to avoid recognizing her ability for what it is; meanwhile she manages to learn a sort of control over it without ever consciously analyzing or accepting that feeling. She has lived that way for years, maybe longer, and in that time the ability has occasionally resurfaced, which means she has had to tamp down on a conscious acknowledgement of it again and again. That kind of self-denial takes a toll, and now she has been caught and called out so effortlessly by Moiraine, a person of power, and one who has knowledge of the world far beyond Nynaeve’s. Her reaction, to accuse Moiraine of lying, to struggle against the truth and suspect a trick, are the last ditch efforts of that self-protective denial, and while her spitting hatred of Moiraine can make her unsympathetic to the reader, in many ways she feels more human, more like a three-dimensionally developed character, than any of the others do to me thus far. Rand has been our point-of-view character for nearly 300 pages, but the only time I have related to him this deeply is in his love for his father and struggle to understand the true circumstances of his birth. I’ve only been in Nynaeve’s head for one chapter and I feel like I understand her perfectly.
I also understand her misreading of Lan and Moiraine’s intentions. At the most vulnerable she has been probably in all of her adult life, Nynaeve’s instinct to read Lan’s surprise as derision and Moiraine’s observations as a trick or attack makes a certain amount of sense. She already doesn’t trust Moiraine for reasons that are actually kind of fair; granted, the suspicion of Aes Sedai does seem to be rooted in a good deal of prejudice, but Moiraine and Lan did secretly take several young villagers away from their homes and families in the middle of the night. And while Moiraine presents herself as the calm, logical one and Nynaeve does have a temper, the Aes Sedai has a great deal of knowledge that Nynaeve, through no fault of her own, cannot have. And the Moiraine keeps those cards very close to the vest. I myself have this personal failing where, if I’m feeling vulnerable or bad about myself I also assume that everyone is thinking the worst of me. It’s hard to have perspective in moments like that, and I appreciated the real humanity I felt from Nynaeve as a character in that moment. Having her break down a little in front of me has made me root for her.
There are some interesting adventures ahead for us next week, dear readers! Including learning more about the effects of the One Power on new users, and the fate of that golden dagger from Mordeth’s hoard. Next week, we’ll be covering Chapters 24-26.
In the meantime, please join us down in the comments and as always, please white out your spoilers! If you don’t, you won’t get the fun of watching me ask a hundred questions you already know the answers to.
Sylas K Barrett lives in Brooklyn and in books, and dares you to say “naive Nynaeve” three times fast.