Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: When Need is Greatest in Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World (Part 18)

Welcome, welcome to Week 18! This week Reading The Wheel of Time covers Chapters 48 and 49. We ride with Lan into the Blight and we will see monsters and green men and trees that would put the ones in Oz to shame. At the edge of the climactic battle, our heroes are drawn together, to thoughts of how the future could be happier, and who they want near them. And the Green Man gives us hope in a decaying land.

 

A note about comments: Before we get started just a little info (in case anyone missed it last week) about what we’re doing vis-à-vis spoilers and comments for the Read. Comments pointing out things I may have missed in chapters are very welcome as long as your comment doesn’t give away future events that Jordan later explains clearly to the reader. I’d love to chat about important information and juicy tidbits I may not have noticed, or realized the significance of. Those discussions are one of my favorite parts of doing the Read, actually!

Folks here have all been doing a great job with this already, but just another reminder that if your comments do contain spoilers for things Jordan later reveals, those discussions are welcome too! Just make sure to hide anything that would give too much away to me or any other first time readers that may be following along. Make whatever portion of the text that might contain spoiler white, and put the little // secret secret, look how wrong Sylas was in that guess, haha // around it so other commenters know where to highlight over to read your thoughts. Thanks!

 

As we start Chapter 48, Moiraine and company are given an escort to the border of Shienar and the Blight by Ingtar and 100 lances, under Agelmar’s orders. They ride together to the Shienaran towers that line the border, heavily fortified stone walls designed to hold back Trolloc raids, with signal mirrors on top to notify other towers of an attack. Normally they would be minimally fortified, but now Rand can see that there are only a few men on the walls, as even here forces have been drawn away to go fight in Tarwin’s Gap. If the men fail there, it won’t matter if the towers are manned or not.

They ride past the towers and up to a plain stone post, which used to mark the border between Shienar and Malkier, and now marks where Shienar ends and the lands under the Blight begin. Ingtar halts his men there, as instructed, but he is irked by Agelmar’s orders; having spent time escorting Moiraine means that he and his men will not have time to reach the others fighting in the Gap, and he is irked not to know the reason he would be denied the ability to fight the Trollocs in the Gap, as well as why they’re similarly not allowed to pass into the Blight and fight there on behalf of the Aes Sedai. His irritation is clear, and Nynaeve asks him if he is truly so eager to fight Trollocs. Ingtar replies “That is what I do, Lady… That is why I am.”

He leaves them then, bidding Lan a traditional-sounding “Peace favor your sword.” as farewell. Rand watches the men go, thinking back to the morning when he had watched the soldiers of Fal Dara prepare to head off to join with other Shienarian forces headed to fight in the Gap. Meanwhile the civilians were also preparing to evacuate Fal Dara, leaving only a token few to defend the fortress. And out of the Malkier Gate went Moiraine and her tiny column, the most desperate and important of all.

For the first hour or so of riding Rand doesn’t notice anything different about the landscape, but it does start to get much warmer. Egwene notes that it’s the best weather they have seen all year, but Nynaeve says that it feels wrong, and Rand agrees, although he can’t quite say how it feels different. He just knows that it’s more than noticing that it should not be so warm this far north; he knows it must be the Blight.

It continues to get warmer and muggier until everyone is sweating, especially Loial. Only Lan and Perrin don’t appear, in Rand’s eyes, to be suffering. Rand is warned off touching a spray of leaves on a branch by Lan, who tells them that they are in the fringes of the Blight now, a place where flowers can kill and leaves maim, and mentions a creature called a Stick that looks just like its namesake, but will bite if touched and release digestive saliva into the wound. And he warns that there is much worse to come, so they’d better keep quiet and keep up.

As they travel on, they encounter the true corruption of the Blight.

Leaves covered the trees in ever greater profusion, but stained and spotted with yellow and black, with livid red streaks like blood poisoning. Every leaf and creeper seemed bloated, ready to burst at a touch. Flowers hung on trees and weeds in a parody of spring, sickly pale and pulpy, waxen things that appeared to be rotting while Rand watched. When he breathed through his nose, the sweet stench of decay, heavy and thick, sickened him; when he tried breathing through his mouth, he almost gagged. The air tasted like a mouthful of spoiled meat. The horses’ hooves made a soft squishing as rotten-ripe things broke open under them.

Mat actually throws up, and Rand notices Egwene and Nynaeve struggling not to even as he himself does. Even Moiraine looks pale, and Loial wraps a scarf over his face. Lan is his usual outwardly unperturbed self, but Rand is surprised to see that Perrin is also not showing much of a reaction to the horror and scent of decay, looking around him as if for an enemy, muttering and half growling to himself, his eyes golden.

Eventually they have to make camp for the night, and Moiraine suggests “a place” to which Lan somewhat reluctantly agrees. They ride westward, and Rand catches a glimpse of what he thinks are hills but then realizes are the remains of towers; seven towers. No one else seems to catch the significance, though, and Lan’s face doesn’t show anything revealing. They do catch sight of a monster in a lake, though, huge and with a tail spouting long terrifying tentacles that may or may not have hands on them. Moiraine sets a ward around their camp to protect them; she can’t use the Power to physically keep things out because that would draw attention, so she hides the camp instead. Everyone hears her announce that she will do this, but Rand and Perrin are helping Lan with the horses and gear and are both startled when the women and Loial seem to have disappeared. Lan rolls his eyes at them and crosses over to where the camp had been a moment before, then vanishes as well, and Rand and Perrin hasten to join everyone.

Moiraine, seeing the boys’ surprise, smiles and explains that what she did was a “bending” so that any eye looking at the camp sees around it instead. Egwene is eager to try her hand at the technique, though Moiraine quickly reminds her that even the most simple use of the Power is dangerous to the untrained. Nynaeve, carefully neutral in her expression, tells Egwene that she is considering going with her to Tar Valon, and Egwene is delighted. Egwene suggests that the boys could come too, and tells Rand that when she is an Aes Sedai, she will make him her Warder. Egwene asks Rand if he would like that, and he, seeing how much the question appears to mean to her, says that he would like to be her Warder, even as he remembers what Min said, that he and Egwene are not for each other.

Rand finds it impossible to fall asleep in the sweltering heat of the Blight, even though Moiraine put something in the lamps to disperse the smell of the place. Most everyone else has fallen asleep, however, except for Lan and Nynaeve. She brings Lan a cup of tea, and Rand cannot help but overhear their conversation. Nynaeve tells Lan that she should have known that he was a king, but he disagrees, calling himself just a man without even a farmer’s croft to his name. Nynaeve insists that some women wouldn’t care about having land or a title, just the man; but Lan replies that a man who would ask her to accept so little would not be worthy of her.

“… You are a remarkable woman, as beautiful as the sunrise, as fierce as a warrior. You are a lioness, Wisdom.”

“A Wisdom seldom weds.” She paused to take a deep breath, as if steeling herself. “But if I go to Tar Valon, it may be that I will be something other than a Wisdom.”

“Aes Sedai marry as seldom as Wisdoms. Few men can live with so much power in a wife, dimming them by her radiance whether she wishes to or not.”

“Some men are strong enough. I know one such.” If there could have been any doubt, her look left none as to whom she meant.

“All I have is a sword, and a war I cannot win, but can never stop fighting.”

“I’ve told you I care nothing for that. Light, you’ve made me say more than is proper already. Will you shame me to the point of asking you?”

“I will never shame you.” The gentle tone, like a caress, sounded odd to Rand’s ears in the Warder’s voice, but it made Nynaeve’s eyes brighten. “I will hate the man you choose because he is not me, and love him if he makes you smile. No woman deserves the sure knowledge of widow’s black as her brideprice, you least of all.” He set the untouched cup on the ground and rose. “I must check the horses.”

Nynaeve remained there, kneeling, after he had gone.

Sleep or no, Rand closed his eyes. He did not think the Wisdom would like it if he watched her cry.

The next morning Rand wakes to heat and sunlight, and he notices that even in the Blight, the sky is still blue. Untouched, he thinks. He notices Egwene and Nynaeve talking, and Egwene sending hard looks in Lan’s direction as Lan ignores them both. As he gets ready for the day, Rand wonders if women have some way of reading men’s minds. All women are Aes Sedai, he thinks, then pushes the thought away, blaming it on the atmosphere of the Blight.

As Moiraine erases the evidence of the Power she used on the campsite, Egwene and Nynaeve both shiver, and Egwene catches Nynaeve’s reaction. They smile and nod at each other (although Nynaeve is visibly reluctant), clearly recognizing each other’s shared abilities, but Rand, not knowing that Nynaeve also has the gift, doesn’t understand the exchange, although he feels that he somehow should. Then they set off, riding North towards the Mountains of Dhoom, as Egwene asks if they will find the Eye of the World that day.

Moiraine answers that she hopes so, but the party is reminded that the Eye is never in the same place. The last time Moiraine found it it was on the other side of the mountains, but in any case they must continue to hunt until it appears. “The Green Man senses need,” she reminds them. “And there can be no need greater than ours. Our need is the hope of the world.”

If the Blight had seemed vile and disgusting before, it is worse now. The foliage of the trees is rotting off of it, and the trees themselves are small, twisted and oozing sap like puss from their split bark. Mat observes that the trees look like they want to grab the travelers, and although Nynaeve gives him a scornful look, Moiraine confirms that some of them do, only her presence protects everyone. Mat looks like he thinks she’s joking, but Rand isn’t sure. He can’t think of a reason a tree would want to grab a man even if it could, and thinks perhaps she’s just trying to keep them alert.

But just at that moment Rand sees a tree in the distance move, bending and reaching down and snatching something from the ground, a dark shape that shrieks as it’s grabbed. Everyone edges their horses away from the forest around them, closer to Moriane as Lan pulls out his sword and disappears in the opposite direction from the terrifying tree. They ride on, hearing terrifying roars from the direction Lan has gone, but a moment later he rejoins them, his sword dripping with black blood that steams. He wipes the blade very carefully and the cloth he uses dissolves as if eaten away.

Then something jumps at them from the trees, and Mat puts an arrow through it before it can reach Lan’s blade. As they ride past Rand can see that it’s covered in bristly fur and has too many legs, some even springing out of its back. Moriaine says that such a creature should not have been willing to come so close to someone who touches the True Source, and Lan suggests that perhaps the Blight also knows that a Web is forming in the Pattern. They try to hurry on, but then more trees move, reaching out to grab them despite Moiraine’s presence.

They all turn to fight, Rand with his sword and Mat with his arrows as he cries aloud in the old tongue again, Perrin hewing through his enemies with his axe in that new stoic way he has. Lan takes Mondarb into the trees again and again, returning with weapons stained in black blood and gashes in his armor stained with his own. Moraine heals them each time, though she bemones the signal that she puts out by using the Power. Rand realises that the only reason they haven’t yet been overwhelmed is because the creatures and the trees are fighting each other as much as trying to attack the company, and fears that even that fact won’t save them, when suddenly they hear a weird, piping cry in the distance. In an instant the trees still and the creatures rush away, and as the cry comes again and is answered by others, Lan tells them that they are Worms, and that they must ride.

As they race the through now dead-seeming trees, Lan explains that nothing in the Blight wants to face a Worm if it can help it, that a Worm can take out a Fade, and that they have a whole pack of them on their tail. Their only hope is to reach the Mountains, where the Worms don’t go because they are afraid of what dwells in the high passes.

The land starts sloping upwards as they ride, but the mountains still remain too far away as the trees are taken down by what sounds like huge bodies slithering over them. Realizing that they won’t make the mountains in time, Lan turns ready to fight the Worms, urging Moiraine to ride on to safety. Nynaeve cries out to him, Moiraine insists that even he cannot stop a Wormpack and that she will need him when they reach the Eye. Rand, looking up through the foothills and towards the pass beyond struggles with his own fear and panic, wondering what could be so bad ahead that it frightens the things chasing them, struggling to find rally his courage by finding the flame and the void.

The void eluded him, forming, then shivering into a thousand points of light, re-forming and shattering again, each point burning into his bones until he quivered with the pain and thought he must burst open. Light help me, I can’t go on. Light help me!

He turns his horse to face the oncoming Worms when the landscape abruptly changes. The Blight is gone, the trees are green and leafy, the ground carpeted in wildflowers, the air filled with butterflies and bees and birdsong. Moiraine tells them that they are safe, that this is the Green Man’s place, and when Rand mutters in confused astonishment that she said it was on the other side of the passes, a deep voice answers him, saying “This place… is always where it is. All that changes is where those who need it are.”

A figure stepped out of the foliage, a man-shape as much bigger than Loial as the Ogier was bigger than Rand. A man-shape of woven vines and leaves, green and growing. His hair was grass, flowing to his shoulders; his eyes, huge hazelnuts; his fingernails, acorns. Green leaves made his tunic and trousers; seamless bark, his boots. Butterflies swirled around him, lighting on his fingers, his shoulders, his face. Only one thing spoiled the verdant perfection. A deep fissure ran up his cheek and temple across the top of his head, and in that the vines were brown and withered.

The Green Man greets them, calling Loial “little brother” and Perrin “wolfbrother,” an address which Perrin studiously avoids acknowledging. When he greets Rand, however, his words are strange and Rand doesn’t understand them.

“Strange clothes you wear, Child of the Dragon. Has the Wheel turned so far? Do the People of the Dragon return to the First Covenant? But you wear a sword. That is neither now nor then.”

When Rand says he doesn’t know what the Green Man is talking about, the Green Man touches his scar and only admits that he is often confused nowadays, that his memories are torn and often fleeting.

The Green Man greets Moiraine next, asking how he could be seeing her again, since the place was made so that none could find it twice. She replies that her need, and the world’s need, has made it possible, and that they have come to see the Eye of the World. The Green Man sighs, saying that he has feared that the Dark One is stirring, as the fight to keep the Blight out of his place has been harder than ever. He tells them that he will take them to the Eye.

 

Well, Moiraine kept saying that need was the key to finding the Green Man, so I guess it makes sense that they would only get to the place when they were one step away from death. Given that she also said to Agelmar that one’s motivations in searching for the Green Man must be completely pure, I suppose a moment when you are desperate for help but not necessarily calling directly to the Green Man would be the purest of all. Perhaps it was even Rand calling on the Light to help him that did it.

In any case, these are a packed couple of chapters! As I was writing the recap I found myself struggling with what to focus on; a lot happens in a short time-frame and it all seems like it will be important. I also used a lot of quoted sections in the recap this week because I found the narration so beautifully seamless in these chapters, especially at the important thematic points. There was no way I could recap Lan and Nynaeve’s conversation, for example, in a way that felt like it captured the essence of what was happening as simply as Jordan’s words do themselves. It’s a lovely section of dialogue, and a lot more is being said behind and between the words. I felt the same about the description of the Green Man; it’s such a perfect image, I could see it like I was watching a film. And I kind of want the Green Man to give me a big, forest-y hug.

I always read each chapter twice, first for fun and overall impression, then again for detail before I do the recap section, and my initial impressions and image of the Blight were vastly different on the second read. On the first pass I focused more on the imagery of decay and dying, imagining trees that were once healthy and tall that have slowly withered away and will eventually be gone entirely as they succumb to the poison of the Blight. But on the second read I realized that the point is that the flora is actually growing in that decayed state, and I imagined the Blight more like how a post-apocalyptic movie might show a nuclear wasteland; the trees aren’t slowly dying, they just exist and grow in a twisted, putrefied state brought on by inner corruption, like the animals with extra limbs growing out of their backs and the Stick with its saliva that isn’t so much poison as it is an agent of decay. Even the oppressive heat, very evocative of the standard idea of hell or a hellmouth, could also remind one of heat from a radioactive source. Poison right down into the molecules.

Living as I do in an era of instant connection with the internet, satellite phones, and the ability for a passenger plane to circle the world in just a few days, I find it jarring to realize just how isolated the lands of Rand’s world are. When I started reading The Eye of the Word, and people in the Two Rivers treated the idea of Trollocs and the Green Man and Aielman as things of history and legend, I assumed that the same would be true of the rest of the lands; that Trollocs would not have been seen for generations and were only now returning to the world. Through the course of the story I’ve learned differently, but this is the first time we have seen the real life of people constantly under siege by the Dark One’s forces, for whom Trollocs never stopped being a reality, and that makes it sink in for me a lot more. The way characters throughout The Eye of the World have talked about the Breaking of the World, the way humanity was scattered, how the Ogier lost their steddings and had to go searching for them, has shown the reader just how separated humanity really is, and it is not peacetime that has made them forget the horrors of Trollocs and Fades but isolation. Seeing the forces of Fal Dara really brought that feeling home for me.

I also feel like the narration is setting us up to receive the idea of Rand’s new fate and responsibilities when he is revealed/discovered as the Dragon Reborn. From Ingtar’s declaration that fighting Trollocs is literally what he is, to Lan’s decision that he and Nynaeve can not be together because he is bound to a war he can never win, to the constant reminder of the nature of ta’veren and the Web forming in the Pattern, the idea of duty and the power of fate are ever present even in two chapters that largely focus on description and action. And Min’s words echoing in Rand’s head during Egwene’s little moment of happy naiveté, when she decides they can all go live in Tar Valon together and that Rand can be her Warder, remind us of how fate and duty may very well keep these two apart despite their feelings for each other. And then right after, Nynaeve and Lan go and have a very similar conversation.

An oh, that was quite painful to read. The way neither of Lan nor Nynaeve could be direct in their speech just made the whole exchange sadder, and I have to admit I was frustrated with Lan’s response. I can certainly understand why he wouldn’t wish to commit himself to someone else, even if he did have feelings for her, while his duty had to always be paramount and there was a high chance that he would die young, but if you’re going to reject someone, you should have the grace to admit your own emotions and needs and not make the other person feel like the responsibility is all theirs. Nynaeve is clear about what she wants and it feels disrespectful for Lan to insists that she deserves better, as though he knows what she should want better than she does. I was also surprised that his duty to Moiraine didn’t come into it; but probably the last thing Lan wants to do is give Nynaeve another reason to resent Moiraine. However, as she is someone who is also very focused on duty, I feel like a rejection on that basis might have stung a little less for Nynaeve than a rejection based on Lan’s unilateral determination that she deserves something better than what she herself wants.

I’m still holding out some hope for the relationship, though. Nynaeve is a determined woman, and no one can truly know what the Pattern holds for them. The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, right?

There’s actually a lot of interesting things going on with Rand in Chapter 49, although they are subtle and you have to watch for them. When he notices Egwene and Nynaeve exchanging that look as they rub their arms, he thinks that he is missing something. Perhaps it is only that he can read the significance in their glance but doesn’t know what it means, but it’s also possible that Rand partially or almost sensed Moiraine’s use of the Power, as the two women clearly did. (That feeling of cold that always seems to accompany channeling is in evidence again, as well.)

Then when Rand is panicking about the Worms and the danger of the mountains, there’s a particular description that accompanies his trying to summon the flame and the void that struck me as perhaps another moment of Rand unconsciously attempting to channel, although he doesn’t succeed this time.

The void eluded him, forming, then shivering into a thousand points of light, re-forming and shattering again, each point burning into his bones until he quivered with the pain and thought he must burst open.

It’s an awfully evocative description that speaks, I think, to more than just a feeling of panic or desperation. Moiraine has said before about how dangerous channeling can be to one who has no knowledge of the technique, and it sounds like Rand just experienced a mild consequence of such inexperience. He’s probably lucky it wasn’t worse.

I am confused by the way that the Green Man greets Rand, however. He called him “Child of the Dragon” which for a moment I thought meant that the Green Man was able to recognize Rand as the reincarnated Dragon, but the confusion about Rand’s clothing and appearance made me think that this was another moment of someone believing that Rand was an Aielman. I don’t know why an Aielman would be called “Child of the Dragon” and I also don’t know why it would be strange for an Aielman to carry a sword since we know from Raen’s story that they are a fierce warrior people. But I am sure there is much more to learn about the Aiel culture and history, so speculation on that front is premature. One thing I do know is that whatever the Green Man thought before he lost his concentration was important, even if neither he nor Rand is aware of it yet.

I think a chapter where the heroes are saved from certain death by a magical device that responds to need has a poignant and bittersweet feeling to it, especially this late in the book. The idea of a desperate fight against almost impossible odds is common in epic fantasy, but the heroes in this case are not saved by luck or by the arrogance of an overconfident evil (like Aragorn leading the armies to distract Sauron to distract him from what’s going on in Mordor at the crucial moment) but by something that seems almost preordained. I don’t know if the Eye is naturally occurring or manmade, but once again this device that is almost a dues-ex-machina again becomes something that is thematically so much more. Moiraine believes that she and her group are meant to be somewhere, are being given guidance and direction to this final conflict, and events so far really do support her belief. Ba’alzamon told Rand in his dream that the Eye will never serve him, but it seems to be that its inclination certainly tends that way.

We will find out who is right week in Chapters 50 and 51, in which we finally see the Eye of the World and have some very climactic battles. So hold onto your seats, dear readers, because this is going to be one heck of a ride! In the meantime, what do you think of the vivid descriptions in these chapters? Are you on team Lan and Nynaeve? And how cute are the Green Man and Loial, calling each other brother and wanting to sing to the trees together?

The name Sylas comes from Sylvanus, Roman god of trees and fields, so Sylas K Barrett thinks he ought to get to go visit the Green Man someday. They would probably get along great.

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