Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: The Beauty of Simplicity in Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World (Part 17)

My dear friends we are getting so close to the end! Only a few more posts until the conclusion of this book, and I. Cannot. Wait. It’s too much suspense for one poor reader.

This week in Reading The Wheel of Time we are going to cover Chapters 46 and 47, which are slower chapters after all the terrifying adventure in the Ways. But I found them a particular pleasure to read nonetheless; there’s some really tight and beautiful narration, we get some backstory for Lan, and most importantly: I was right about Padan Fain!

Leaving the Waygate, Rand and company find themselves in Shienar, in the Borderlands. There are rolling hills and mostly dead trees, a few of which are even split open as if struck by lightning. Lan explains that in the area, it can get so cold that the sap of the tree actually freezes, causing the tree to burst. Mat complains of the winter cold, but Lan assures him that this weather is a fine spring.

They pass farmhouses, all empty and abandoned, although Nynaeve and Egwene observe that the residents can’t have been gone long, given the evidence of spring curtains in the windows. Perrin agrees, noticing a scythe left out that isn’t rusted enough to have been in the elements long. Rand is perplexed by this, as the tool is too far away from them to see the blade with such detail.

Rand tries again to suggest that Nynaeve and Egwene don’t have to come into the Blight, but Loial and Nynaeve both remind him that they are part of events now, part of the Pattern as much as Rand is. Rand starts to try to explain, but Nynaeve cuts him off. She tells Rand that if the three of them, whom she calls boys but then corrects herself to men, will go into the Blight and face the Father of Lies, can she and Egwene really do any different? She rides off, Mat in awe of being called a man by the Wisdom, of all people, while Egwene rides up to Rand and quietly explains that she only danced with Aram, and asks if he would hold that against her. Rand says of course he wouldn’t, but he wonders why Egwene would bring that up now, and remembers Min telling him that they are not for each other, not in the way they both want.

They reach Fal Dara, and Rand notices the practicality of the walls of the city, built for one purpose, to hold. Moiraine and Lan push back their hoods, and Lan explains that no man is allowed to hide his face inside the walls of Fal Dara. Mat makes a joke, asking if they are all so good-looking, but Lan only replies that a Fade can’t hide with his face exposed.

As they ride through the gates, men at arms cry out to them, calling Lan “Dai Shan” and asking about the Golden Crane, while others, to the Ogier’s surprise and pleasure, greet Loial as well with shouts of “Glory to the Builders!” Inside, they discover what happened to the residents of all the abandoned farms; they are in Fal Dara, camped in the streets wherever they can find room with their wagons of possessions, livestock, and children. In contrast to the noisy crowds of Caemlyn, these refugees are silent and weary, watching the party pass with emotionless or haunted expressions.

Lan leads them to the center fortress, an imposing place surrounded by a moat filled with spikes, and into the courtyard, which is filled with men and horses in armor and weapons makers hard at work. Their horses are taken, and they are escorted to the chambers of Lord Agelmar by a man who Lan calls Ingtar. Agelmar, Moiraine, and Lan greet each other formally, but Rand can tell that they are old friends. Agelmar also greets Loial with what is clearly an Ogier formality.

As they begin talking, Agelmar entreats Moiraine and Lan to ride into battle with the soldiers of Fal Dara, who are to ride to Tarwin’s Gap to hold back the Trollocs. When Lan inquires as to their chances, Agelmar answers that the civilians will be evacuated to the capital, and even then he seems worried that Fal Moran won’t hold, either. He explains that the Trolloc raids lasted all through the winter, which is highly unusual. Every city in the Borderlands fears that a great attack is coming out of the Blight and that it is aimed at them, so Shienar cannot raise any help, and will ride into the Gap to fight even though they will be outnumbered ten-to-one. He begs Lan to ride with them, insisting that the banner of the Golden Crane, of the Diademed Battle Lord of Malkier, will bring others to rally around it. Lan is so distressed he actually crumples his silver goblet in his fist, but despite Agelmar’s repeated pleas, refuses. He says that he serves Tar Valon now, and is bound into the Blight. Agelmar asks Moiraine as well, and when she, too, insists that she has her own errand to fulfill, Agelmar offers her a company of men to escort her, saying that he hopes to at least make a difference in her errand, giving her powerful warriors to defend her in the Blight rather than the green youths he takes the Emond’s Fielders to be. But Moiraine and Lan explain that warriors will only attract attention and that the Green Man will not show himself if even one member of the party seeks glory or has impure motivations. They argue in circles for a bit, but eventually Agelmar realizes that Moiraine and Lan will not budge, and he gives in.

With the serious matters settled, Lord Agelmar plays host to the party, and everyone talks and eats, and Agelmar even breaks out some tabac from the Two Rivers. As he, Lan, and Loial smoke, Agelmar asks the Ogier what is troubling him, and Loial admits that he is troubled that there is no remnant of Mafal Dadaranell in the city. Agelmar answers that everything was destroyed in the Trolloc Wars, and since the people who remained did not have the skill to replicated Ogier stonework, they did not try to.

“Perhaps we wished to avoid a poor imitation that would only have been an ever-present reminder to us of what we had lost. There is a different beauty in simplicity, in a single line placed just so, a single flower among the rocks. The harshness of the stone makes the flower more precious. We try not to dwell too much on what is gone. The strongest heart will break under that strain.”

“The rose petal floats on water,” Lan recited softly. “The kingfisher flashes above the pond. Life and beauty swirl in the midst of death.”

“Yes,” Agelmar said. “Yes. That one has always symbolized the whole of it to me, too.” The two men bowed their heads to one another.

Poetry out of Lan? The man was like an onion; every time Rand thought he knew something about the Warder, he discovered another layer underneath.

Loial nodded slowly. “Perhaps I also dwell too much on what is gone. And yet, the groves were beautiful.” But he was looking at the stark room as if seeing it anew, and suddenly finding things worth seeing.

Just then, Ingtar arrives and tells Agelmar that a madman was caught trying to scale the walls of the city. Agelmar orders that the man be brought to him at once, and Moiraine says that she would also like to be present. They bring the man in, dressed in tatters and utterly filthy, giving off a rancid smell as well, but as soon as he speaks, the Emond’s Fielders all recognize him. It is Padan Fain, the peddler.

Fain is acting very strangely; at one moment he’s sniveling and begging for clemency, saying that he didn’t want to do it but “he made me! Him and his burning eyes,” and talking about being forced to be “his” hound, but the next moment he is standing tall and speaking in a commanding though differential way to Lord Agelmar, claiming that his rags are a disguise because he is being hunted, and offering Agelmar a way to defeat Trollocs which only Fain knows. Although Agelmar is derisive that the peddler’s claims importance and a secret to defeating the Dark One, Fain continues to wheedle and insist until Moiraine stands and approaches him, at which point he falls back into his whimpering, cringing attitude. Moiraine tells Agelmar that he is “…more than a peddler… less than human, worse than vile, and more dangerous than you can possibly imagine.” She and Lan have Fain taken away so that Moiraine can question him.

Everyone else has to wait for Moiraine to be done questioning Fain. While Rand paces and Perrin crushes his food into little crumbs and Mat occasionally touches the dagger beneath his cloak, as he began to do as soon as Fain arrived, Loial examines the stonework of the walls and Lord Agelmar talks quietly with Nynaeve and Egwene. Rand stops to listen to their conversation as Egwene asks Agelmar about Lan, the title of “Dai Shan”, and the Golden Crane banner that the men of Fal Dara keep mentioning, as well as the Seven Towers that she once heard Moiraine mention. Agelmar tells them the story of Lan’s heritage, how his father was al’Akir Mandragoran, King of Malkier, who was betrayed by his brother’s wife, who convinced her husband to lead an army into the Blight where he died, after which she turned on the King, saying that his refusal to send his own army was what led to her husband’s death. Together she and al’Akir’s rival, Cowin Fairheart, plotted to seize the throne, drawing men away from the defenses and leaving Malkier open to Trolloc invasion. For Cowin was also a Darkfriend, and Malkier was overrun. When they realized there was no hope left, the King and Queen of Malkier sent away their son Lan, still just a baby, and gave him the sword of the Malkieri kings, which he still wears.

They anointed his head with oil, naming him Dai Shan, a Diademed Battle Lord, and consecrated him as the next King of the Malkieri, and in his name they swore the ancient oath of Malkieri kings and queens.” Agelmar’s face hardened, and he spoke the words as if he, too, had sworn that oath, or one much similar. “To stand against the Shadow so long as iron is hard and stone abides. To defend the Malkieri while one drop of blood remains. To avenge what cannot be defended.”

They gave the baby to a group of bodyguards who fought their way to safety. Lan was raised in Fal Moran, learning the art of war and how to survive in the Blight, unable to defend the lost lands of Malkier, held by the Trollocs until the Blight swallowed it, but still able to avenge it. But Lan denies his titles because he will not lead others to their deaths. Agelmar tells them that no one in the world would be more able to take them into the Blight and bring them back out again.

Nynaeve seems the most struck by all this information, but before anyone can say anything, Moiraine and Lan return. Moiraine has had servants bring her hot water and soap and she begins scrubbing as she explains what she has learned. She says that Fain has been a Darkfriend for more than forty years, but worse, that he was brought to Shayol Ghul and made into the Dark One’s hound, changed fundamentally with torture and other methods that Moiraine clearly does not want to describe, to be able to hunt the boys. He was chosen for where he did his peddling, and for three years sought to narrow down their location, helped along by having his memory and senses “distilled” each year in Shayol Ghul. Eventually he knew that one of the three boys was the one he was searching for. He was told in a dream to return to Emond’s Field and meet with a Fade there, to let the Trollocs in through the Waygate that once stood in the groves of Manetheren.

Fain followed them, manhandled by Trollocs and Fades all the way to Shadar Logoth, where Moiraine’s false trail fooled the other servants of the Dark One but not Fain’s special tracking ability. It took a while but eventually a few of the Fades began to believe Fain’s claims and those were the ones who turned back to search the abandoned city. But when Mashadar took out the Trollocs and Fades, Fain was able to escape from them. He hoped to escape the servants and the Dark One as well, no longer wishing to serve even despite the rewards he was promised, but the compulsion to hunt the boys would not leave him or lessen at all. He hunted them through Caemlyn, and even through the Ways, and when he was caught by the Black Wind some of the voices recognized him as one of their own, while others feared him. He was let go, and followed them to the very walls of Fal Dara. Even in his cell, Moiriane says, his head would turn as if unknowing, in the direction of the room where Rand, Mat, and Perrin waited.

The knowledge Moiraine has gained from Fain proves to her beyond anything else how dangerous their situation is. It shows the progression of the Dark One’s strengthening abilities; how 3 years ago he had to have a Darkfriend brought to Shayol Ghul to touch him, but now he can even reach those who are still in the Light in their dreams, and that he can project an image of his mind, though wavy and faint, to be visible to those who stand in Shayol Ghul. This, she tells Lord Agelmar and the others, is more dangerous than every Trolloc hoard combined, because it shows how desperately the seals binding the Dark One are weakening.

Realizing the true desperation of their situation, Agelmar asks one more time if Moiraine will accept soldiers from him to help her fight what he calls the true battle. Again she refuses, explaining that it must be the boys, and for a moment Agelmar fears that she is suggesting that they are male Aes Sedai. She explains the ta’veren, how their very presence and effect on the Pattern might change the outcome of events in favor of the Light, and how they are of the old blood of Manetheren.

Agelmar says that he would not doubt the old blood, and is finally mollified. Moiraine says they must get a little sleep, and that the young men must sleep close to her, because time is too short to allow the Dark One another strike at them. Rand can feel her studying him, and the words “too short” stay in his mind.

 

Wait.

Wait wait wait, is Padan Fain a Darkfriend/hound and possessed by Mordeth? Am I totally out in left field right now? Hard to imagine that someone who was under the influence (I was going to say protection here but protection is about the last thing Ba’alzamon provides even to his followers) of the Dark One could have room for any other taint, and I would expect Moiraine to have caught something like that, but then again, she does say that she thinks Fain is hiding something. The way that he talks to Agelmar is the biggest red flag for me here; he goes from whimpering and begging to standing tall and promising the Lord of Fal Dara that he alone has the secret to defeating the Trollocs and even the Dark One himself. That sounds like Mordeth’s rise to power in Aridhol to me! It seems very odd that the terrified Fain would take such a tack, and even if the answer was that his mind had been damaged by what has been done to him, where would he come up with a personality that insists on being an important weapon against the Dark One? If he was alternating between groveling and claiming that Ba’alzamon forced him and then standing tall and mocking them that the Dark One would kill them all, that would make sense. But this doesn’t.

Even the Black Wind treats Fain like he’s two people. Moiraine says that some of the voices welcomed him as one of their own while others feared him, but since we don’t know what the Black Wind is, or even how it would react to, say, a Fade, that information is only of limited usefulness. My personal inclination is to think of the Black Wind as an entity unto itself, not a product of Ba’alzamon’s taint, or at least so far removed as to be unrecognizable to the Dark One, and vice versa. If Fain was possessed by Mordeth, the Black Wind might might recognize the hungry, destructive force of Mashadar as similar to itself, and it’s possible that the corruption of Fain’s soul might make it unpalatable even to Machin Shin.

I feel like I’m either right on the money here or so completely off-base it’s ridiculous. And I don’t mind telling you, dear readers, that I have never been so tempted to look up spoilers as I am right now! I’ve been waiting so long to have my Padan Fain theories confirmed and yet this one question still hangs over my head! But I will restrain myself—after all, I don’t want to take the wrong lessons from Mat.

Getting away from my Padan Fain dilemma and back to the beginning of the recap, there are a lot of beautiful details in Chapter 46. I included that whole passage of the discussion between Agelmar, Loial, and Lan about the rebuilding of the walls not so much because of its importance to the plot but because I think the message, or lesson if you will, fits really well with the overall tone and structure of the narration of this chapter. The description of the split tree, for example, gives the reader a very evocative idea of the landscape and weather much more cleanly than a long description would have. I have noticed that Jordan tends to favor both types of narration at different points, some descriptions will be really long and involved, others will be clever little gems like the bit about the tree or the spring curtains in the windows of the abandoned farms. I also very much enjoyed Mat’s little joke about everyone in Fal Dara not wearing their hoods because they’re all so good looking—it’s funny and cute, not culturally insensitive really, and for once the reason it was a bit inappropriate wasn’t so obvious you kinda want to pinch him. Lan didn’t seem amused, but I can imagine some citizens of the city finding that quip very funny.

I’m not quite sure of the way Jordan is stretching out the mystery of Perrin’s change for Rand and Mat. I get that Perrin’s not keen to talk about or embrace his new status as a Wolfbrother, but given that Lan, Moiraine, and Egwene already know all about it, and Nynaeve half-knows about it, and his eyes are a different color, it seems like he should just round it all out by explaining the basics to everyone. Also from a narrative point of view, it’s kind of weird to spend time with Rand repeatedly wondering what’s up with Perrin. We the reader know what it is, and there’s not really enough high stakes in a reveal to keep us in any kind of suspense about it.

But we do get Lan’s backstory! As the heroic Aragorn of our group, it only makes sense that Lan is a displaced king haunted by the duties he cannot perform and unsure if he can or should take up the mantle of that old title. Way back in the beginning of the Read I complained about how all the heroes appear to come from humble origins but then they are inevitably secret princes or of special blood or reincarnated heroes, and how I wasn’t sure how much I liked that idea. But the thing I do like about Lan being a dispossessed king is how his status as Warder affects how he feels about his heritage. Although the need to avenge and protect remains, I’d love to know more about how Lan feels personally about his status. If Malkier were avenged or restored, would Lan want to return to it? Or does his personal loyalty, his sense of purpose, belong so heavily to Tar Valon that nothing could shake it? How does his heritage relate him to other Warders who perhaps come from humbler origins?

Epic fantasy often contains kingdoms and governments that are at least loosely based on Western medieval history, but because it is fantasy, it usually glorifies royalty, nobility, and bloodlines in a highly unrealistic way; a tack that has come under a lot of criticism lately for its problematic nature and ubiquity. I think these concerns are warranted and always more diversity is needed, but one thing I personally enjoy about medieval-style epic fantasy kings and royals is the focus on duty. Like Aragorn, Lan is a servant of people, of the Light, a protector figure whose focus is always on others, never on himself. And whether he is serving Moiraine and Tar Valon or avenging Malkier in the Blight, that remains true. And those are always heroes that I love dearly.

Next week Lan gets to put those Blight-navigating skills to good use, we get more really interesting description of the land, and we get to meet the Green Man. I didn’t get around to touching on Moiraine’s comments in Chapter 47 about need and intent being the key to finding the Green Man, so we’ll talk about that, too.

So how did I do in my Padan Fain theories? Feel free to, you know, not tell me down in the comments below!

Sylas K Barrett is a little confused. Lan is like an onion? I thought ogres Ogiers were like onions?

citation

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