Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: Two Rivers or Aielman in Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World (Part 14)

Welcome once and again to Reading the Wheel of Time. This week, week 14, we’re going to cover Chapters 39 and 40, in which Rand gets himself into one heck of a pickle. Seriously, if Mat is the Pippin of the group, then this is Rand’s Frodo moment of climbing up onto the table to sing and accidentally putting the ring on in front of everyone at the Prancing Pony. It seems like Rand just generally wants to climb up onto high things, and it is usually a bad idea that attracts attention he definitely does not want.

We’re also going to see a lot more Arthurian-sounding names from Jordan, and get to know a little more about politics in Caemlyn. While working on the recap, I was particularly struck by the chapter titles of 39 and 40: “Weaving of the Web” and “The Web Tightens”. Until now the chapter titles have been pretty straightforward. Chapter 1 is “An Empty Road” because Rand sees a rider and then on second glance the road is empty. Chapter 24 is “Flight Down the Arinelle” and they’re, you know, escaping down the Arinelle. Chapter 38, in which Perrin and Egwene get rescued, is literally just called “Rescue.” But there’s no conversation in Chapters 39 and 40 about the Wheel or its weaving, which suggests to me that Jordan is trying to gently imply something about the nature of the events that unfold in these chapters. Having mused before about what “fate” means in the context of people’s lives being threads in a pattern woven by the Wheel of Time, I feel like I can see more than coincidence driving Rand to the unlikely meeting he’s about to have.

Chapter 39 opens with Rand watching the street from his window, as excited crowds of people hurry toward the inner city to see the arrival of Logain as he’s brought to be presented to the Queen. He tries to convince Mat to come with him, but Mat is holed up in bed and will only mutter nasty comments about Loial being a Trolloc and burrow deeper into his bed. Rand leaves, frustrated and worried about Mat’s downward spiral. He’s even considering getting a healer for his friend, although he isn’t sure that it’s really sickness that is affecting Mat.

In the hall, Rand runs into Master Gil, who warns him that some “half mad” beggar has been about asking for Rand and the other two boys by name. He also mentions that the Whitecloaks are spreading rumors of “strange shapes” outside the city, which he regards as nonsense but make Rand anxious. Finally he warns Rand to be careful out there, and that “even today good Queen’s men will be outnumbered out there” and has Rand leave through the alley rather than the main entrance.

Rand has learned the significance of the wrappings that he put on his sword to hide the heron mark. The red wrappings, which he bought because they were cheaper, meant the wearer supported Queen Morgase, while white wrappings meant that the wearer believed that the Queen and her connections to the Aes Sedai were at fault for the bad weather and failed crops. White outnumbers red in the city, with even visitors compelled to choose a side.

The surface mood of the city is different today, as the capture of Logain means celebrating a victory of the Light over the Shadow. But the undercurrent of tensions remain as Rand joins the throng heading into the city; he sees Whitecloaks bumped “accidentally” and nearly knocked over, and realizing most of the people around him are showing white wrappings and armbands, Rand feels uneasy.

In the inner city, which is beautifully designed for stunning views, Rand finds a good vantage point to watch the route Logain will be taken on, close enough that he’ll be able to see the faces of the False Dragon and his escorts. He’s happy with his spot, until a strange and distasteful figure makes its way through the crowd, people jerking away as he passes. Rand watches the figure, a beggar dressed in rags with a cowl over his face, until suddenly the man turns and points straight at him with a cry.

Immediately Rand knows that he does not want that man to be anywhere near him, and he flees, shoving people aside as the beggar starts after him. He has to shove through the crowd, which draws everyone’s attention to him, and he worries that a man showing red and running from something might draw attention. Once he loses himself in the maze of the city he stops, knowing that the beggar will keep looking for him in the crowd of people. He considers going back to the inn, but he knows he will never have another chance to see the Queen or a False Dragon, so he decides to find somewhere to watch from, even if it’s from a distance. This proves a challenge, but eventually he discovers a high wall, which he climbs and discovers he can see the procession from the top.

The procession is impressive, but Logain himself, escorted by a group of Aes Sedai and warders, is what catches Rand’s attention. Despite being a prisoner, Logain holds himself like a king, and the crowd falls silent wherever he looks, and as rest of the people scream at him as he disappears into the palace, he laughs.

The procession continues, but Rand finds it anticlimactic after Logain, and he asks himself if the man was actually defeated. He can’t stop thinking about it, and wonders aloud why the Aes Sedai were watching him. A girl’s voice answers “They’re keeping him from touching the True Source, silly.” And Rand is so startled he loses his balance and falls, knocking himself out.

He wakes up on the inside of the wall, in what appears to be a park. There is a richly dressed girl a few years younger than he is and very pretty, and a slightly older boy, equally well-dressed. The boy observes that their mother will be angry with them, and through their conversation Rand learns that their names are Elayne and Gawyn. He tries to get up and excuse himself back over the wall, but a dizzy spell stops him, and the girl Elayne takes medical supplies out of her cloak and begins to work on his head, although Rand tries to pull away, not wanting such a well-dressed young woman to get blood on her. She tells him quite pointedly to stay still, and Rand asks Gawyn if she always expects everyone to do what she says; Gawyn, surprised by the question, says usually they do. Confused by the conversation that follows, in which Gawyn and Elayne debate over which people in Elayne’s life won’t do as she says, and Rand begins to become suspicious. When he asks who their mother is, Gawyn responds “Morgase, by the Grace of the Light, Queen of Andor, Protector of the Realm, Defender of the People, High Seat of the House Trakand.”

Hearing this, Rand panics, and tries to insist that he needs to go back over the wall. Elayne and Gawyn are surprised and curious that he didn’t know who they were, and ask for his name. Without thinking, Rand gives them his real name and admits that he’s from the Two Rivers. Gawyn seems particularly interested in this, and also surprised, and babbles a little about the type of people who live in the Two Rivers and how a stubborn husband from there would be good for Elayne. Just then another young man arrives, equally beautiful and almost as well dressed, and orders Elayne and Gawyn to get away from Rand.

Elayne tells the man, Galad, that Rand is under her protection, and Rand realizes that the man must be Galadedrid Damodred, Gawyn and Elayne’s half-brother. Galad insists Rand must be dangerous, and although Elayne tells him to leave and not tell anyone, a few moments later guards appear and surround Rand. Gawyn and Elayne stay in front of Rand to protect him from arrows of the soldiers, and Elayne has a terse discussion the head of the guards, Tallanvor, in which the two keep trying to one-up each other in power depending on rules and orders issued by Elayne or by her mother, Morgase. Just as Elayne has gotten the upper hand, however, another guard arrives, bringing a message commanding that all three of them be brought before the Queen.

Rand has no idea how to behave in the presence of the Queen; he copies Gawyn’s bow but finds Tallanvor glaring at him when he does. Queen Morgase, even more beautiful than her daughter, scolds Gawyn and Elayne for sneaking a look at Logain after they were told not to. Another woman, who is sitting behind the throne on a stool and knitting, comments that Elayne’s lessons in Tar Valon will teach her to be a great Queen, but her description of the teaching sounds almost like a threat. Rand realizes that she must be Elaida, the Aes Sedai, and he is suddenly very glad that he did not go to her for help.

The Queen turns her attention to Rand, and Elayne explains how Rand came to be inside the wall. She insists that meeting Rand was a valuable way for her to learn more about the people of the Two Rivers, and asks her mother to be good to a “loyal subject from the Two Rivers.” But Morgase is unimpressed by the plea, pointing out that the Two Rivers people don’t even know that they are part of the realm, a fact Rand accidentally confirms with his expression. But Elaida is struck by the suggestion that Rand is of the Two Rivers, given his hair and eye color, his skin, and his height, none of which are typical for those people.

She comes down to look at him, as Rand insists that he was born in Emond’s Field, and that he had an outlander mother who gave him his eyes. She reaches out to touch his sword hilt, and her eyes widen as she proclaims it to be a heron-marked sword. Instantly all in the room spring to attention, the guards ready to fight, Gareth Bryne, the Captain-General of the guards, putting himself between Rand and the Queen, and even Gawyn stepping in front of Elayne.

After a tense moment, Morgase points out that Rand is too young to have earned a heron mark. But Gareth Byrne insists that the sword belongs to Rand. Rand explains that the sword was his father’s, given to him when he decided to travel outside of the Two Rivers. Elaida has some choice things to say about the convenience of his story and the odds of someone like him ending up in Elyane’s presence at the same time as Logain is brought to the Queen, right before the future Queen is about to start out to Tar Valon and her training to rule. Morgase asks if she is naming Rand as a Darkfriend, if her words are “a fortelling.” She orders Elaida to “speak it clearly.”

“This I Foretell,” Elaida replied, “and swear under the Light that I can say no clearer. From this day Andor marches toward pain and division. The Shadow has yet to darken to its blackest, and I cannot see if the Light will come after. Where the world has wept one tear, it will weep thousands. This I Foretell.”

A pall of silence clung to the room, broken only by Morgase expelling her breath as if it were her last.

Elaida continued to stare into Rand’s eyes. She spoke again, barely moving her lips, so softly that he could barely hear her less than an arm’s length away. “This, too, I Foretell. Pain and division come to the whole world, and this man stands at the heart of it. I obey the Queen,” she whispered, “and speak it clearly.”

Despite this auspicious announcement, the Captain-General advises the Queen that he believes that Rand is innocent, and suggests that the safest course of action would be to lock him up for a few days until Gawyn and Elayne leave on their journey and then to let him go. Elaida likes this advice, but the Queen, after some deliberation, decides that she does not want to give into the suspicion and fear that is smothering Caemlyn. She asks Rand to swear that his story is true, that he means no harm to Elayne or to the throne, and Rand does. She tells Rand also that she has heard Two Rivers speech before and recognizes it, and orders the guards to escort him out with every courtesy.

Rand is escorted, Elayne and Gawyn still with him, to a small side door at the palace, gates. Elayne mentions, before she leaves, that she thinks he is handsome, which leaves Rand gaping. But he also has a chance to ask Gawyn why everyone thought he did not look like he was from the Two Rivers. Gawyn replies that, with a shoufa wrapped around his head, he would be “the image of an Aielman.”

With that Gawyn and the escort depart, leaving Rand standing outside the door, his mind reeling. He stands there until he suddenly realizes how easy it would be for Elaida to find him there, and then hurries off.

 * * *

Whew! This was a difficult recap to write, because it feels like just about everything in these two chapters is going to be important going forward. Starting from the top, I am still reasonably sure that the gross beggar is Padan Fain, and that he’s become a darkfriend and is hunting Rand and the boys. It’s possible that there’s more to it, like maybe he isn’t directly in league with the Dark One but is somehow adjacent to the evil chasing the Three Rivers kids. Either that or it’s some kind of physical manifestation of Mordeth following them because of the dagger, but from what I’ve seen of Jordan’s writing, he always follows through with his set-ups, so I’m still waiting to learn the significance of that weird conversation that Rand had with the peddler in Baerlon, and the way Fain was so carefully insistent that Moiraine not know about him. It occurs to me too, now that I know about Ba’alzamon’s hounds, that Fain could have been on the scent of the Dragon Reborn for even longer that Moiraine; after all, someone had to lead the Trollocs and Fades to search he Two Rivers, right? How did they know that the Dragon Reborn had to be there?

But whatever or whoever the beggar is, though, him chasing Rand has had the effect of launching a very important series of events, as well as giving the readers a great deal of information about the royal family. Mostly because commenters have been pointing out the sounds and possible inspirations for WoT names but also because they are particularly obvious, I noted the similarity of the royal names to some form Arthurian legends: Morgase=Morgause, Gawyn=Gawain (son of Morgause in Le Morte d’Arthur) Galad=Galahad, and Elayne=Elaine (wife of Lancelot, mother of Galahad. I think there was more than one Elaine in the Arthurian stories, actually, but that’s getting off track.) The similarity of the names certainly evokes a sense of nobility and destiny, and I have a feeling Elayne and Gawyn will be important later in the series.

Gawyn’s awareness of Rand’s resemblance to an Aielman is worth noting, too. That truth of his lineage is getting harder and harder for Rand to avoid acknowledging, and I really think the penny is about to drop. I do wonder how much of him not realizing yet is just having too much on his mind (much easier for us readers to keep track of everything important than it is for the characters living it!) and how much is a deliberate effort to avoid realizing the truth. After Elaida’s foretelling, though, he’s got to realize that something’s up. There’s ta’veren, and then there’s “stand[ing] at the heart of” pain and division for the whole world.

Doesn’t make being the Dragon sound like much fun, does it? (Not that before this moment I thought it would be. Being the chosen one never is.)

I have to wonder what Elaida thinks about her own foretelling. She doesn’t give the relevant bit to the Queen for a reason, but she could just have easily murmured the last bit to herself rather than to Rand. Why would she tell him what she saw? A helpful warning? Or a not so helpful one, letting him know that she’s on to him? Rand definitely doesn’t feel like he can trust her, and I think his instincts are right.

What I don’t understand is how this Ajah thing works. The mentions of the Red Ajah have suggested that they are responsible for taking care of men who develop the ability to channel, and they don’t sound very nice. Thom also mentioned Black Ajah, and although they weren’t described in any way, there’s only so many ways to understand the color black in a world in which Evil and Good are literally titled Dark and Light. I’m sure we’ll get more information about how the Ajah factions work, but maybe not until we get to Tar Valon, which might not even happen in this book.

The heron-marked blade is another thing that we have some sense of from context so far, but there’s clearly more to the story than Rand or the reader have been given thus far. I gather that they were specifically awarded, possibly to those who distinguished themselves in a particular battle, and the bearers were such amazing swordsmen that the blade gets an instant reaction from anyone who recognizes it. The way the guards, Gawyn, and Gareth reacted when Elaida announced the sword is more intense than any reaction we have seen thus far; the guards are literally “prepared to die” when they learn that Rand carries such a distinguished blade. Tam al’Thor might have been a shepherd, but that man’s adventures were greater than anything he let on about.

Rand’s ability that Tam taught him to “find the void” seems to come from Tam’s swordsman skills and training, and I think it’s going to stand Rand in very good stead as he prepares to carry the burdens of being the Dragon. I’m sure that kind of calm focus is even more important in channeling than it is swordplay.

I’m also really interested in the state of the palace. It makes sense that the Aes Sedai would have the ability to make things grow and to ward against whatever dark influences are making winter last and ruining the harvests. But this is the first we’ve seen of such an ability, and Elayne’s complaint that it is unfair for the royal family to have flowers when the people can’t grow enough to eat feels like an important one. Perhaps it’s because I’m already suspicious of Elaida, but I suspect we will find plenty of Aes Sedai who are out of touch with the regular people, either because they don’t care or because they are too focused on the bigger picture of the war against the Dark One. That kind of perspective is something that Nynaeve has accused Moiraine of before, and although I don’t think that was really warranted in Moiraine’s case, I do think that it will be a problem in others.

Even more interesting is the fact that Elaida keeps rats out of the palace. Gawyn says that she “doesn’t like rats,” but I expect it is more than a personal dislike, given the associations between rats and Ba’alzamon.

I do wonder if Rand and Mat will have to flee Caemlyn now, rather than wait any longer in the hope of meeting up with Moiraine. Will this misadventure stop them from meeting? Rand gave Elaida false information about where he was staying, but I’m sure the Aes Sedai has the ability to search for him, either using the Queen’s resources or her own power. (Spoiler alert, Sylas, the next chapter is called Old Friends and New Threats, so maybe Moiraine and the others will find Rand after all. That would be a good thing too because it seems like Mat is in pretty deep at this point.)

Next week will cover chapters 41-43, and then things will really pick up. Meanwhile, I will see you all down in the comments! Any non-spoilery thoughts about the chapter titles? How about Rand’s crazy climbing? And I haven’t even touched on the significance of Rand, the Dragon Reborn, watching Logain, the false dragon, and being so struck by his presence and bearing. There’s just so much in these chapters!

Sylas K Barrett is very much ready for Rand to realize who he is.

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