Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: The Bonds of Wolves and Warders in Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World (Part 13)

Welcome welcome esteemed readers, to Week 13 of Reading the Wheel of Time. Today we’re going to cover Chapters 37 and 38 of The Eye of the World, one from Nynaeve’s POV and one from Perrin’s, and it’s a really fun little adventure rescuing Perrin and Egwene from the Whitecloaks. I have definitely been wondering how they were going to get away when they were so outnumbered, turns out it’s through Aes Sedai and Warder heroics and some good old fashioned sneaking from Nynaeve.

Chapter 37 opens with Nynaeve in her usual miffed mood, sulking because she’s been left to look after the horses while Moiraine and Lan scout ahead. She thinks back on their journey out of Whitebridge, how Moiraine finally decided to go after the one boy who still had his coin, repeating her mantra of “as the Wheel weaves” as they left the road and struck out cross country. At one point, while they were camping, Moiraine suddenly stood up, announcing that the boy had lost his coin. But later in the night he apparently regained it, and she tells Nynaeve that all will be well, although the Wisdom has trouble believing it.

She is startled from her memories by Lan’s hand appearing suddenly on her arm; his cloak blends in so well with the night that she didn’t even realize he was there. He tells Nynaeve that she is needed, and they hobble the horses so that she can follow him to where Moiraine is waiting. Lan shows her the Whitecloak camp below, and tells her that the boy with the coin is in the camp and a prisoner, although Lan doesn’t know why. Although Nynaeve is half under the impression that Lan could probably walk right into the camp and take the boy out from under the noses of 200 Whitecloaks, he tells Nynaeve that they need her help, and asks her to sneak into the camp and cut the tethers on the horses so that the Whitecloaks can’t chase them when they realize that their prisoner is missing. Nynaeve agrees, teasing Lan as he warns her of wolves in the area, and Moiraine instructs her to be careful, saying that Nynaeve is also part of the Pattern and that Moiraine would not risk her any more than is necessary.

Nynaeve sneaks into the camp, unimpressed by the guards along its borders, who march around but never really look to one side or the other. Approaching the picket lines of horses, however, Nynaeve grows nervous, knowing that the guards will come to check any noises from the sleeping animals. Her attempt to cut almost through the first tether (so that they will hold until any pressure is exerted on them) is made especially nerve-wracking by the lead horse waking up and looking at her, but she succeeds in her mission and moves onto the next line.

On the fourth line, however, she accidentally cuts herself and makes a small sound. Not sure if the guards could have heard her, she feels that the smart thing to do would be to leave; four out of every five horses running loose would be enough to keep the Whitecloaks from chasing them. Still, she thinks of Lan, and although she imagines that he would not judge her, that he would understand and agree with her logic, picturing his expression drives her to move to the last picket line, where, to her immense surprise, she finds Bela tethered.

Nynaeve realizes in an instant what this means, that Egwene is also in the camp, and that they will need more horses to escape the Whitecloaks safely. She carefully cuts the rope, then unties Bela from the group and also the horse directly behind her. The horses are happy to let her take them, but Nynaeve fears that she will be seen from the nearby tents, and desperately hopes that Moiraine will make her distraction happen immediately, rather than wait for Nynaeve to return. In that same instant, lightning begins striking in the camp, terrifying the horses, who easily break from the sliced ropes and scatter. Nynaeve is only barely able to keep hold of Bela and the other horse, but she gets onto Bela as more lightning strikes around her, and wolves dart into the camp, attacking the other horses although they seem to be ignoring Nynaeve and her mounts. She wonders desperately what Moiraine is doing with them as she puts her heels to Bela’s flanks and rides.

Flashing back a bit, Chapter 38 finds Perrin and Egwene suffering in their captivity, forced to walk behind horses with their hands bound, sleeping on the ground without blankets or shelter, and tormented by Byar, who continually comes to tell them about the fate that awaits them at the hands of the Questioners. As far as Perrin can tell, Byar doesn’t seem to have much of an emotional investment in whether or not Egwene and Perrin were tortured or killed, but was just reciting the simple truth, and that is what terrifies Perrin the most. This particular night, thoughts of the tortures Byar has been describing are keeping Perrin awake despite his exhaustion.

Which means that he is awake when Byar comes over to check this bonds, handling Perrin roughly. Perrin wakes Egwene up before Byar can find a more uncomfortable way of doing it, and he checks her bonds as well. But then, instead of either leaving or talking to them more about their upcoming torture, Byar begins to tell Perrin that Captain Bornhald is in a bind. The Council of the Whitecloaks wants to know more about the wolves, so Bornhald must bring Perrin and Egwene to be questioned. But because of the wolves they are low on horses, and cannot travel as fast as they would like with Egwene and Perrin on foot. This means being late for a rendezvous in Caemlyn, which they cannot afford.

Perrin doesn’t understand what Byar is driving at until Byar pulls a stone with a sharp edge from under his cloak and leaves it on the ground. He suggests that both he and their guards “speculate” that if Perrin and Egwene were to cut their bonds on a sharp stone and escape, the Whitecloaks wound not have time to search for them, and the problem of time would be solved.

Perrin desperately tries to decide whether it can actually be true that Byar, of all people, would want them to escape. It occurs to him that it is far more likely that Byar wants them to be killed while trying to escape, but before he can decide how to get out of his predicament, a message comes to him from the wolves that help is coming.

Perrin is so surprised and pleased that at least Dapple and Elyas are still alive that Byar notices the expression on his face. But before he can extract an explanation, one of the nearby guards is taken out by a shadow, and then the other. Byar tries to defend himself with Perrin’s axe, which he has been carrying since it was confiscated from Perrin, but Lan appears out of the darkness and avoids the attack easily, knocking Byar out with his fists. He puts out the lantern, plunging the three of them in darkness, and quickly frees Perrin and Egwene.

He has Perrin collect the cloaks of the unconscious men, and Perrin finds it difficult to touch Byar, although he does as he’s told and collects both the three cloaks and his axe. The three dress in the cloaks, and Perrin feels a prickle of fear when he puts his on, wondering if it is Byar’s. He almost believes he can smell him. When Moiraine’s lightning strikes they are able to run from the camp with ease as horses and men panic around them, their white cloaks disguising them as they disappear into the night.

They reach Moiraine easily, who informs them that Nynaeve is not back yet. Lan turns to go back for her, but Moiriaine stops him, telling him that some things are more important than others. When Lan still hesitates to obey her, she reminds him; “Remember your oaths, al’Lan Mandragoran, Lord of the Seven Towers! What of the oath of a Diademed Battle Lord of the Malkieri?”

Perrin is puzzled by the titles but the whole thing is interrupted by Nynaeve arriving with Bela and the other stolen horse, and Moiraine gets them all moving. Perrin feels the wolves grow distant, Dapple promising that they will meet again one day.

When they make camp, Nynaeve uses her ointments to tend to Perrin and Egwene’s injuries. She’s horrified by the bruises on Perrin’s ribs from Byar’s constant kicks, but when she applies the ointment the bruises disappear almost entirely, and she seems scared for a reason Perrin can’t understand. But that’s quickly forgotten when Nynaeve gets a look at his eyes and sees that they’re yellow. Nynaeve is afraid he is sick but Moiraine examines him and merely says that there was no foretelling this happening. Despite Nynaeve demanding to know what it is, neither Moiraine nor Lan choose to explain. Lan does ask privately if Perrin met a guide, and he recognizes Elyas’s name, explaining that Elyas used to be a Warder. When Perrin asks if Lan believes that the wolf ability is part of the Shadow, Lan says he doesn’t think so, but who can know for sure. He suggests that the old barriers are weakening, maybe even the walls of the Dark One’s prison, and that they may be facing the end of an Age, or even the end of the world. But he promises Perrin that they will fight together until the last breath, and that the Two Rivers folk are too stubborn to surrender. Perrin is hardly comforted by that, but Lan also reminds him that he is back among friends, and that Moiraine’s presence protects him. But they must find the others soon, as they have no Aes Sedai touching the true source to protect them.

* * *

I totally forgot that Captain Bornhald gave Egwene and Perrin back their possessions (minus the weapons). It actually seems a weird choice now, given how they keep their prisoners, tying them up by halters around their necks and making them walk behind the horses. Perhaps this was merely a necessity, since the wolves took so many of the Whitecloak’s mounts, but the lack of basic human consideration seems in line with the treatment Perrin and Egwene experience, left to sleep without shelter or blankets, handled roughly, etc. I’m sure Byar’s nightly harassment wasn’t ordered by Bornhald or anything, but I am equally sure that he doesn’t care if Byar is doing it. Makes all that talk at the end of the interrogation about Egwene having time to repent seem pretty pointless. Then again, maybe all Bornhald meant was that she could repent at the hands of the Questioners.

I actually was surprised by Perrin’s reading of Byar in this Chapter. He seems to think that because Byar appears emotionless while dealing with him and Egwene, that he doesn’t care one way or the other if they are tortured or killed, and I really don’t think that is true. Rather, I suspect that this is Byar’s new approach to handling his extreme dislike of Darkfriends and of Perrin in particular; treat it like an emotionless exercise while being unnecessarily rough and cruel at every opportunity. Nightly lectures on what torture is upcoming doesn’t really seem like the choice of someone who doesn’t care one way or another, and it’s not like he’s trying to get confession or some kind of conversion out of them.

Perrin’s reaction to touching Byar’s unconscious form and wearing his cloak is interesting too. On first read, I interpreted that as little more than a basic traumatized reaction from everything Byar has put him through, but on a second read I realized that this is probably his heightened wolf senses working; he thinks more than once that he can smell Byar on the cloak, and it reminded me of Dapple communicating to him that the Children smelled wrong, like “the way a rabid dog smells wrong.” There is something deeply broken in Byar, something that is different than Bornhald’s more measured conviction, or even the bland, inattentive guards that Nynaeve found it so easy to sneak past. I am sure this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Byar; I imagine he’ll be back to trouble Perrin in the future.

On a lighter note, is there a little something brewing between Nynaeve and Lan? I know he’s noble, and both values and serves women with the Power, but there was something about the way he wanted to go back for her, hesitating even when Moiraine gave him a direct order. And when Nynaeve reappears, Lan grabs her arm and they stare at each other, and he needs Moiraine’s reminding to let her go. Meanwhile Nynaeve’s chuckling about it. Perhaps I’m reading too much into the moment, but their banter also seems to have a different flavor to it; like in the top of the chapter when he is explain that wolves don’t usually bother people, and Nynaeve tells him “sweetly” that of course she didn’t know that, she only grew up around shepherds. She’s still spitting barbs at Moiraine but her one-upmanship game with Lan is starting to feel more like banter than anger.

I really enjoyed the excitement of these chapters; because the action is self-contained, it really moves, and it’s interesting to see the characters’ different skills at work. Nynaeve’s sneaking abilities are quite impressive! And I was interested to see her realization that it was her power that told her that if they didn’t have enough horses the Whitecloaks would catch them, and if they caught up to them, some of them would die. “She was as certain as if she were listening to the wind.” Nynaeve wishes angrily that Moiraine hadn’t told her about her gift, but now that she has been told, she knows the truth. It makes me wonder what would have happened if Moiraine hadn’t said anything; are Nynaeve’s abilities getting stronger now that she knows about them, or would she have had the same instinct anyway, and just not known where it came from?

The idea of having a guide in one’s power is already well established in this world. Nynaeve is one of the lucky female channelers who figured out how to control her ability on her own, without even knowing she was doing so. But others, as Moiraine explained back in Chapter 21, cannot learn to control their channeling without help, to the point where it will kill them if they do not have a teacher. This is Moiraine’s fear for Egwene, which she told Nynaeve, but meanwhile Perrin’s discussion with Lan in this chapter is taking a slightly similar tone. While Perrin’s life isn’t in danger from his wolfbrother abilities, Lan asks if Perrin’s change just came to him, or if he “met a guide, an intermediary”. So while Perrin could have discovered his connection to wolves on his own, this suggests that having a guide in the learning the skill is more common.

And how thematically interesting to have Elyas be the one-time teacher of Lan and then to have taught Perrin in a very different manner. It makes me think that the Pattern is taking a hand in directing their lives, leading Perrin to Elyas on purpose. And knowing that Elyas was a Warder really changes the small bit of information Elyas gave Perrin and Egwene about himself, how he doesn’t like Aes Sedai, how the Red Ajah wanted to “gentle” him (which as I understand it is something they do to men who have the One Power) and how he told them that they served the Dark One. Or how he mentioned how he had to kill several Warders to escape, though he didn’t like that. What a different story if he was once part of their world, if these were friends who were turning on him. Was Elyas once as loyal as Lan? Did he have an Aes Sedai he served like Lan serves Moiraine? That appears to be a very deep connection, possibly enhanced in some way by the One Power, and seems like it would be a very difficult thing to break.

And how about that connection between Moiraine and Nynaeve? I wasn’t sure if it was just Moiraine’s abilities that allowed her to know that Nynaeve wanted the distraction at precisely the right moment or if it was a specific communication between the two of them as channelers, but I’m leaning towards the later. I know Nynaeve has a lot of disdain for Moiraine as someone who represents all of her fears and her lack of knowledge about what is happening to her, but it seems like sooner or later, Nynaeve is going to come around to accepting her abilities, and then they will be colleagues at least. Possibly even friends?

Seems like everyone in these books could use as many friends as they can get.

Next week is we go back to Rand again to cover Chapters 39-41 and that young man is getting himself into even more trouble than when he climbed the mast on the Spray. As a general rule, Rand should probably keep his feet on the ground, seems like every time he gets up high he winds up in a whole heap of trouble.

Sylas K Barrett would very much like a pack of wolf friends. But he has a beagle friend named Archer, which is pretty cool too.

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