Welcome back! We are now in week eight of Reading The Wheel of Time, and like last week, we are drifting through a hazy lull, like the quiet before the storm. In this section, covering chapters 27 and 28, Perrin and Nynaeve are feeling anxious and frustrated, while Egwene and Elyas are patient and Moiraine, as ever, follows the Pattern and plays things close to the vest.
I really enjoyed the feeling of these two chapters. Just like the previous section, these chapters are a pause in the pacing and a chance to set up for the next round of action. We the readers are like Egwene, dancing with the Traveling People and enjoying ourselves, because this may be the last opportunity we have to do so. (Well, we the readers get to enjoy the bad things too, but that’s our privilege as beings on the other side of the fourth wall.)
Perrin finds it difficult to relax as he, Elyas, and Egwene remain traveling with the Tinkers. He feels restless, and notes that Elyas seems uncomfortable as well, his wolf-like attitude at odds with the peaceful and playful Tinkers who also carry a great wariness about them, which reminds Perrin of deer; obviously cautious despite their friendliness and seemingly ready to run away at the sign of any clear threat.
But although Elyas seems no more able to adjust to the Tuatha’an’s ways and attitudes than they are to his, when Perrin suggests leaving Elyas resists. He tells Perrin that something is telling him to wait, that they should rest while they can. Perrin is worried about being found by Trollocs or a Fade, concerned for the Tinkers’ safety as well as their own, but Elyas won’t budge, or explain what the “something” is. Perrin has nightmares about the Tinkers’ camp being attacked—ordinary nightmares—but everyone around him remains relaxed and waiting as the band of travelers moves slowly on.
Even Egwene relaxes, spending time with Ila, the leader’s wife, or with Aram, their grandson, dancing and enjoying herself. Perrin finds himself embarrassed by some of the women dancing more sensually, but Egwene enjoys flirting and being close with Aram and even begins to learn one of the slow, hip-swiveling dances. Perrin confronts her, angry that Egwene appears—to him at least—to have become distracted from their mission by pleasant times and a handsome boy. But Egwene suggests that they need to enjoy themselves while they can, that it might be their last chance.
Perrin is also aware of the wolves, whose irritation at the delay starts to match Perrin’s own. His ability to understand them appears to be growing as even from a distance he know their personalities now and their thoughts.
And then one night Perrin’s dream is different. He dreams that he is home in Master Luhan’s house, Mistress Luhan there with him as he sharpens his axe and a wolf sleeps at the door. But then Ba’alzamon appears, and he sets the wolf on fire, mocking it as a useless protection. Perrin tries to put out the fire but the wolf turns to ash against his hands. He scrambles to protect himself, catching up his axe, but Ba’alzamon tells him he cannot run or hide, that if he is the one he will not escape. He says that he marks Perrin as his, and a raven flies out of his hand and pecks out Perrin’s left eye.
And then Perrin wakes up. Elyas is there, clearly about to wake him, and the wolves are howling and full of thoughts of pain and fire and kill. Elyas tells him simply that it is time to go, and they get to work gathering up their belongings and saying hasty goodbyes. Perrin is surprised that Egwene has no objections to leaving.
The wolves come to greet them once they are free of the camp and they communicate Perrin’s dream to Elyas. They also tell Perrin that his safety with them will only be truly complete once he accepts them in his mind and in his heart. But Perrin doesn’t want to hear it and somehow pushes them out of his head.
Meanwhile, Moiraine, Lan, and Nynaeve arrive at Whitebridge. Nynaeve is in a bad mood, frustrated that she can’t get the answers she wants from Moiraine, and angry at herself as the idea of embracing the One Power keeps cropping up in her mind. She regards it as “filthy” but still considers that she might embrace it if she has to, to get revenge on Moiraine if anything happens to Perrin, Rand, Mat, and Egwene. She’s irritated by Lan too, feeling as though he is constantly watching her and embarrassed that Moiraine seems to be winning in all their conversations.
Nynaeve and her companions can feel a tension building, a sense that Moiraine explains in the increasing focus of the Dark One. And then they reach the town on the other side of Whitebridge and find destruction there. The air is thick with the smell of smoke and they can see buildings that have been burned to the ground. The people seem afraid and scattered, but Moiraine gets many to talk to her. They don’t tell the truth much, though, denying that anything happened or telling stories about overturned lamps, that a man in the town was meddling with the One Power, or that the town had been attacked by bandits. The mention of trouble coming on a boat from upriver catches Nynaeve’s attention, though.
They go to an inn to eat, the same one that Thom, Mat, and Rand patronized before they had to sneak away, and Lan has a bit of a confrontation with the local militia when a soldier becomes suspicious of the strangers. But Lan easily wins the test of wills and the militiaman leaves after bidding them to hurry about their business and depart the town quickly. Moiraine tells them that she knows the two boys who lost their coins were in the same room only a day or so ago, and that she knows they didn’t take the boat further downriver. She decides it will be best to go looking for the one boy who still has his coin, as she doesn’t feel confident tracking the other two any further. She tells Nynaeve that they will undoubtedly go to Caemlyn and she can find them there, and that a Myrddraal was there as well. When Nynaeve reminds her about Egwene, Moiraine says that of course she hopes to find her and that she does not easily give up young women with that much power, but that “it will be as the Wheel weaves.” Nynaeve is put off by this, wondering if she herself is also one of those women that Moiraine will not easily let go of, and silently promising herself that it won’t be that easy.
These two chapters fit together really well, I think, and there is a nice parallel created between Perrin’s anxious frustrations with Elyas and Egwene and Nynaeve’s anger towards Moiraine. Perrin and Nynaeve both have a sense of urgency driving them but little knowledge of what to do about it, while Elyas and Moiraine have wisdom and experience to guide them and ask that others follow their lead without much explanation. I suppose, then, that Lan and Egwene are in the middle of this analogy I’ve drawn; Lan follows Moiraine because of the bond between them, clearly born out of respect for her status as Aes Sedai but also it seems from long acquaintance together. But how about Egwene? I am interested in how easily she seems to have accepted the idea of having a bit of respite with the Travelers. Despite Perrin’s weird conviction that she is going to fall in love with Aram and stay with him, it seems pretty clear that she’s just having a last bit of childish fun before she continues on the path that will lead to her becoming Aes Sedai and assuming a life of seriousness and hard work. Perhaps Egwene trusts Elyas’s instincts more than Perrin does, or perhaps she has some sense of her own that the danger is not quite so near just yet. I’d love to have a chapter from Egwene’s point of view right about now, I feel like a lot of her motivations are still unclear and I’d like to have her character developed a little more past being the super capable, level-headed “Hermione” of the group.
Speaking of Harry Potter, wizards really do like to play their cards close to the vest. Whether it be Dumbledore, Moiraine, Gandalf, or the Merlin figure they all draw so much of their foundations from, one of the hallmarks of these wise, guiding figures is how much crucial information they keep from the hero. Sometimes this is to manipulate the hero into filling a role they might not have chosen if they had all the facts, other times it is an attempt to reduce the wizard’s influence on the outcome. It can also be out of fear, or because they are just too busy to get around to it–often, however, it can be out of a sense of superiority. Take, for example, Gandalf’s reunion with Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas when he reveals himself as Gandalf the White. There they are, assuming he’s Saruman, practically ready to kill him on the spot, and Gandalf is too busy making sly comments and amusing himself to reassure them.
“‘My name!” said the old man again. “Have you not guessed it already? You have heard it before, I think. Yes, you have heard it before.'” (The Two Towers, ch 5, p 102)
Granted, Gandalf claims to be a little out of himself at the time due to the whole rebirth as “the White” and everything, but I still think the wizard was having a good laugh at his friends’ expense.
As for Moiraine? At this point it’s hard to tell with Moiraine which motivation, or combination of motivations, is causing her to offer so little of her knowledge to the people she has traveling with her. Of course the distrust of Aes Sedai is probably a big factor in her holding her tongue. I kept thinking about the coins that Rand and Mat gave away to Domon—how they never would have given them away on the boat had they known it would help Moiraine find them again, and how they never would have kept them in the first place had they known what they really were. So Moiraine’s silence on the nature of the coins makes sense. But there is also something a little insidious about her silence over the matter of the boys and how she clearly knows that one of them is the Dragon Reborn. The danger for whoever is the One is so much greater than the boys could ever comprehend and one gets the sense that, by keeping the possible identity from them, she intends to have a certain amount of control over whomever it turns out to be. This is pretty suspect, but to be fair, how could she really tell these young boys the truth, in the midst of danger and flight, and have them even begin to understand or know how to handle the information? As in many cases, the answer is not so clear as one might wish. Such, I suppose, is the burden of power. (That sounds like something Gandalf might say, right?)
I can’t blame Nynaeve for picking up on some of that. Part of her hostility towards Moiraine is certainly born from prejudice against Aes Sedai, but Moiraine’s attitude is never going to put Nynaeve at ease, and sentences like “I do not easily give up young women with that much ability once I have found them,” certainly have a pretty ominous sound. Moiraine sounds like she’s claiming ownership over Egwene, and that would make me as suspicious as it does Nynaeve. On the other hand, I get the feeling that if Nynaeve could bring herself to try an ounce of honey with Moiraine, instead of a gallon of vinegar, she might get a little farther.
Elyas, meanwhile, is taking over a similar role for Perrin and Egwene, now that they are separated from Moiraine. He also is less than forthcoming, but that feels more like it’s just due to his nature rather than any tricky wizard stuff. Like an animal, like the wolves to whom he belongs, he lives in the moment, and I think that the “something telling [him] to wait” which he refers to is just plain instinct. He doesn’t explain it to Perrin because there are no words to explain it. In addition to his wolfy wisdom, he has also clearly seen a lot, has traveled and learned much of the world, has experience with the Aes Sedai and many other people from many lands, and is a little more direct in viewing Perrin and Egwene as naive children. But he’s also, I think, more quick to recognize their strengths and cleverness, especially Egwene. I loved the way he laughed at her putdown to Perrin at the end of the chapter.
“Ila was giving me advice on being a woman,” Egwene replied absently.
…. “Advice! Nobody tells us how to be men. We just are.”
“That,” Egwene said, “is probably why you make such a bad job of it.” Up ahead, Elyas cackled loudly.
I guess Elyas has his own reasons to think that men make a bad job of being men.
Overall, I think that the tension between the characters is what drives this section and creates a sense of urgency that in some ways is even more striking for me than some of the more action-based chapters. Perrin’s fear that the Traveling People will be caught in the crossfire when the servants of the Dark One show up and his sense of tension with the wolves who wish to adopt him, the itch at Nyneave’s back and her ongoing sense of helplessness, the fact that Elyas and Moiraine know things that our point of view characters do not, all build these relatively uneventful chapters into something that is pushing me to the edge of my seat. I really want Perrin to accept the wolves, and I also really want to know more about what Moiraine is thinking. Is she as calm as she outwardly appears? Does she feel even remotely in control of what is happening, or is she clinging on to this faith in the Pattern with her fingernails? I think knowing that Moiraine was scared would actually help Nynaeve, and I wouldn’t mind seeing it either.
That’s it for this week’s analysis, and I will just end on a slightly less cerebral note with the paltry complaint of why does everything have so many names? I don’t mind things having a technical name and a more casual name, but it’s more like stuff has three or four, and I don’t know what to call anything when I talk about them here. Do I call them Tinkers or Traveling People or Tuatha’an? Do I use the term Myrddraal, or Fade, or Halfman? Does it matter? I really want the narrative to tell me which terms should be the dominant terms, even if different characters use different words sometimes. But at least I think I’m spelling them all correctly.
Next week we’re going to cover Chapters 29 and 30, where things get even creeper (in my humble opinion) than Ba’alzamon’s rat torture and wolf-burning, and spend some time with my very least favorite antagonists, the Children of the Light and their intensely discomfiting bad-cop, good-cop routine.
Sylas K Barrett really loves wizards but may have had to look at Wheel of Time spelling like eight times.