Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: Dragons and Amyrlins in Robert Jordan’s The Great Hunt (Part 2)

Welcome to Week Two of The Great Hunt. We get some good world building this week, and a lot of running around Fal Dara. I enjoyed the way that these chapters did a lot of world building for Fal Dara, but also combined it with a sense of suspense that upped the interest and the stakes for the reader. We learn a little more about Shinaran customs such as the fact that men and woman might bathe together and yet their apartments are kept strictly separate, just how much respect the Aes Sedai and the Amyrlin Seat have in Shinar, and that the prefix “al” denotes royalty in their language. We also learn that people are really dumb about Padan Fain.

Chapter 1 opens with strange wind rising over the Mountains of Dhoom, flowing over the Blight and into the land of Shienar, where it finds Rand al’Thor atop a tower of Fal Dara, sparing with practice swords against Lan the Warder. Rand is struggling to hold his own when the wind suddenly seems to trap him, holding him and then driving him forward into an oncoming blow from Lan. The Warder is surprised by the move, scolding him for foolishness and worried about Rand being hurt, until Rand explains how the wind pushed him. Looking concerned, Lan tells Rand that strange things happen so close to the Blight, and when Rand insists that this was different, Lan merely offers the open-ended explanation of “For someone like you….”

Lan asks Rand why he hasn’t left Fal Dara yet, and Rand responds that he is determined to learn to use the heron-marked sword his father, Tam, gave him. But as long as he is carrying the sword, people expect him to be able to use it, and that sooner or later he won’t be able to bluff his way out of such a situation. Lan suggests selling it, an idea which Rand vehemently refuses to entertain, but he learns from Lan that, while any heron-marked blade is rare and valuable, this one is especially so, as it was smithed long ago by Aes Sedai wielding the One Power. Lan explains that many powerful weapons were made with the One Power before the Breaking, some which could wield the Power themselves, others which were “plain” by comparison but were still made of metal purer and stronger than any metal that could be made by an ordinary smith. No Aes Sedai makes weapons anymore, but Rand’s sword is one of those old blades that survived even the Breaking.

Rand is alarmed to know that his weapon came from Aes Sedai hands, which again prompts Lan to ask why Rand has not yet left. Rand suggests that it is because he is hesitant to leave his friends, then that it is the way that Nyneave and Egwene look at him, then finally admits that it is because Moiraine has barely spoken to him since they returned from the Blight and the fight at the Eye of the World. Rand feels as though Moiraine has set him adrift after telling him the truth about himself, that he can wield the One Power, insists that she must be able to tell him more. Lan tells him that she has told him all she can and that he should be content, and sets him to practice his swordsmanship forms.

Just then they hear the distant sound of trumpets and drums, and looking out they see a great host riding towards Fal Dara. Horrified, Rand recognizes the banner; a white teardrop shape. It is the flame of Tar Valon, and the women in the host are all Aes Sedai. Lan tells him that the Amyrlin Seat herself has come to Fal Dara, and that it would be better for Rand if he had already been gone a week. Then he leaves. Rand, afraid that they have come to gentle him or maybe to kill him outright, knows that me must flee.

Rand hurries back to his rooms, dodging questions and well-meaning comments about how the Amyrlin Seat must have come because of Moiraine and Rand and their companions, how excited he must be, and so on. Rand brushes them off as best he can, internally horrified by the thought that the leader of the Aes Sedai has come for him. When he gets to the room where he is staying with Mat and Perrin, he finds that servants are taking all of his clothes, as well as his friends’, and replacing them with new ones on Moriaine’s orders. Elansu, the head housekeeper of Fal Dara, tells him off briskly when he tries to protest, then orders him to undress and give him the rest of his old things. In his wardrobe, Rand finds a plethora of new shirts and coats as well as two cloaks, and is shocked by the number as well as the quality. One of the cloaks bears an emblem.

His hand drifted to the cloak of its own accord. As if uncertain what they would feel, his fingers brushed the stitching of a serpent curled almost into a circle, but a serpent with four legs and a lion’s golden mane, scaled in crimson and gold, its feet each tipped with five golden claws. His hand jerked back as if burned.

Rand is terrified of why Moriaine might have had such an emblem put on his clothes, who might have seen it or understood its meaning. He gets dressed, pleased despite himself by the fit of the new garments and boots. He packs up what he can, taking out a hidden bundle that contains Thom Merrilin’s old gleeman’s cloak, harp and flute, and adds that to his collection, as well as his sword and a quiver full of arrows, and a tall bow he made himself.

He takes everything as casually as he can through the keep to the stables, but Rand can’t help but stop and watch the Aes Sedai caravan arriving in the courtyard. He sees fourteen men, Warders like Lan, and fourteen Aes Sedai, plus another standing in front of a palanquin and holding a large staff. They are greeted by Lord Agelmar and Ronan, Elansu’s male counterpart, with a ritualistic call and response. When the Amyrlin Seat exits her palanquin and looks out over the assembled crowd, Rand flinching, feeling as though her gaze physically touched him. He hurries away, telling himself that she cannot yet know who or what he is, wondering if it was she who sent the strange wind against him.

In the stables Rand is told that he cannot have his horse saddled, as it has been ordered that the gates are to be closed and none are allowed to enter or leave without permission. When Rand asks if it is Agelmar who gave the order, the stableman replies “who else?” He then suggests that Rand must be happy, because now that the official greetings are over, the Amyrlin Seat will be sending for him and his friends. Rand takes off at a run.

He goes first to the sally gate, meeting two guards he knows, one of whom is fond of him, but the other is not. Rand hopes that his friend will let him out despite the order, explaining that he wants to go hunting and escape all the hustle and bustle, and asks again if the order is from Lord Agelmar, again receiving the surprised reply of “of course, whose else could it have to been.” But with the other guard there, Rand is out of luck, and he backpedals, not wanting to look suspicious, and declares he’ll go find some peace in the gardens instead.

Every other gate Rand tries is similarly shut and guarded; he doesn’t even try any of them, and instead begins to wander, despairing but refusing to give up all the same. He considers that Moiraine has not done anything to him, despite being an Aes Sedai, has never moved against him, at least as far as he knows. He even wonders for a moment if being gentled would really be so bad, to have it all really over at last. But he remembers Thom Merrilin’s words to him, that the men who have been gentled stop wanting to live, and soon die, and hurries stubbornly on.

He passes through the kitchens and servant’s quarters, wondering all the while if someone who saw him would later hear that he was being looked for, past the armorer’s forge, currently empty, where he seems to feel invisible eyes on him, despite there being no one around. He wonders if it is Amyrlin looking for him, or just his imagination, or perhaps the onset of madness from his use of the the One Power. The feeling fades, then returns again, following him until he comes to a storeroom door behind which he can hear human voices and laughter, and he goes in to escape the unseen watcher.

Inside he finds Loial watching some men playing dice, and the Ogier greets him warmly, remarking upon how interesting it was to see the greeting, and the Amyrlin herself. Rand asks Loial if he knows any secret ways out if Far Dara, but the Ogier tells him that his people only build the old city, Mafal Dadaranell, not this new one. Rand sinks against the wall, murmuring that he needs a way out, and Loial, alarmed at the strange behavior, calls out to Mat and Perrin, who are among the dicers.

Mat asks about Rand’s new clothes, suggesting that he might buy himself some new things as well, since he has done so well at the game of dice. Rand explains about their things being replaced, and that he needs to leave because the Amyrlin Seat has come. When he mentions Lan’s warning, Mat is surprised that the man would ever speak ill against an Aes Sedai, and reminds Rand that Moiraine is their friend, and has never done anything to hurt them. But Rand looks at Perrin’s mysterious yellow eyes and thinks of the cursed dagger than Mat carries and cannot discard without losing his life, and feels differently about that. Rand tells them about the watcher, and about the strange wind that caught and held him, and repeats that he needs to get away.

Mat points out that they can’t leave with the gates barred, and Rand is surprised that Mat would include himself in Rand’s plans. He reminds his friend that Mat must go to Tar Valon to have himself separated from the cursed dagger, but Mat suggests that perhaps Moiraine wasn’t telling the truth, and that he might be better off getting away from the Aes Sedai, too. Rand, knowing how dangerous his abilities are but being unwilling to tell them why, insults the two other men, saying that he doesn’t want to clean up Mat’s messes anymore, and doesn’t want them with him when he leaves Fal Dara. This seems to work, but Perrin reminds them that no one can leave anyway, and Loial reminds them that they are all ta’veren, and that the Wheel dictates their fates no matter what they choose. Mat, not wanting to hear any more about the Wheel and fate, leaves with Perrin, and Rand tells Loial off in order to get the Ogier to go too. He feels sick about it, but he’s glad that he got his friends away from him, so at least they will be safe.

Rand continues deeper into the keep, wanting to hide but afraid that searchers or the unseen watcher will find him wherever he manages to secret himself, until he practically bumps right into Egwene, who has been searching for him. She says that Mat and Perrin told her what he did, and that she realizes why he did it. Rand tries to insult her in the same way and turns away from her, but Egwene throws herself at him and knocks him down. They both threaten each other with the One Power before Egwene points out that what Rand is doing, running and hiding and striking out to distance himself from his friends, is foolish, because he has no real reason to suspect that Moiraine told anyone the truth about him.

Rand tells her what Lan said, which does make Egwene worry, and she decides that she will hide him in the dungeons until they know for sure if anyone is looking for him. She admits she, and Nynaeve as well, sometimes goes down to see Padan Fain. Egwene says that, despite everything that Fain is responsible for, including bringing the Trollocs to Emond’s Field, she is also reminded of home when she sees him, and that he sometimes seems more like his old self, and talks to her about Emond’s Field. Rand decides that if Moiraine says it is safe enough for Egwene down there, then it is probably safe enough for him, only to realize that Moriaine doesn’t know that Egwene goes down to the dungeons. Still, he doesn’t have a better plan and allows her to take him down to the dungeons.

There they encounter an unpleasant guard who is quite rude to them, much to Rand’s surprise. Still, the guard recognizes Egwene and lets them in, giving them a lamp to light their way. Rand is a little worried that they won’t let be let out again, and Egwene admits that the guards seem worse every time she comes down to the dungeons; meaner, more sullen, no longer friendly the way they were at first. She points out some of the prisoners as well, and mentions that they too, seem worse every time she comes.

Rand hangs back as they approach Fain’s cell, keeping in the darkness outside the lamplight. But despite that, Fain looks right at him, greets him by name.

“I feel you there, hiding, Rand al’Thor,” he said, almost crooning. “You can’t hide, not from me, and not from them. You thought it was over, did you not? But the battle’s never done, al’Thor. They are coming for me, and they’re coming for you, and the war goes on. Whether you live or die, it’s never over for you. Never.” Suddenly he began to chant.

Soon comes the day all shall be free. Even you, and even me.
Soon comes the day all shall die. Surely you, but never I.”

He let his arm fall, and his eyes rose to stare intently at an angle up into the darkness. A crooked grin twisting his mouth, he chuckled deep in his throat as if whatever he saw was amusing. “Mordeth knows more than all of you. Mordeth knows.”

Egwene and Rand are both alarmed, and Rand notices that the angle Fain is looking up at would allow him to look straight at the women’s apartments and at Moriaine and the Amyrlin, if there were no stone of the building in the way. Egwene tells Rand that, while Fain is better some days than others, this is much worse than usual, and that she doesn’t think Rand should stay after all. She hatches a new plan, to make it look like he is carrying bundles for her and to sneak him into the women’s apartments, where certainly no one would think to look for him, as men are not allowed in without an express invitation. Rand doesn’t like the idea, but he agrees anyway, and as they leave they can hear Fain calling to him.

 

Whew! A lot happens in these first few chapters, and at the same time, not that much. This is one of those suspense building sections from Jordan, like the chapters of Mat and Rand traveling the road back in The Eye of the World. It also is a good section to throw in some world building, with lots of detailed descriptions of the fortress and people of Fal Dara that might be a little boring without the underlying suspense of Rand’s predicament. It’s a really smart author move.

Rand’s discovery of the origins of Tam’s sword is an interesting one, and another little tidbit for the reader to understand the greater Ages of the world; we’ve seen the White Bridge and a few other old relics from such times, but the sword is an example of Aes Sedai work at the height of their power that is much more intimately connected to the story and our hero’s, which makes it even more interesting than more general world building. Rand isn’t just holding Tam’s history in his hands when he wields the heron-marked blade, he is also holding the world’s.

The arrival of the Amyrlin Seat in Fal Dara really throws a sense of misdirection into the events of this section. Because Rand is so fearful of the consequences of his abilities and afraid of Aes Sedai control and gentling, he fails to consider the other explanations for the strange experiences he has. The wind that holds him comes out of the Blight, not from the direction that the Aes Sedai arrived from, but his immediate suspicion is that the wind was somehow the Amyrlin’s work. He fears that his unseen watcher is the Amyrlin as well, which is a fair assumption, but when he comes in contact with Fain he doesn’t even consider that possibility, despite the fact that he know that the man has been given the power to track Rand anywhere. He is even reminded by the fact of Fain’s ability to sense him when Fain is able to look straight at him even when Rand is hidden in the dark. He is so caught up in his fear of the Aes Sedai that he is isn’t taking certain things into consideration.

Speaking of not taking important things into consideration, Moiriane must have realized by now that Mordeth is in there with Fain, right? And even if this is the first time the man has said that name aloud, it isn’t as though Egwene and Rand wouldn’t recognize the name the moment he uttered it. I was surprised that there was no reaction from them in this scene, than no one seems to be taking an active concern in the deterioration of guards and prisoners. I don’t know how long it has been since Moiraine has been down there, but the guards must interact with other people at some point, and even without the added problem of Mordeth, everyone knows that Fain is a very dangerous Darkfriend, and you’d think that evil influence is something people would want to keep an eye on. And yet that doesn’t seem to be the case. Perhaps Mordeth’s influence puts people at ease despite themselves, making him more easily overlooked even by those who are not swayed by his insidious abilities to tempt and destroy. And I imagine that he’s getting out of that dungeon, sooner or later. He certainly seems to think so.

The fact that Rand has new fancier clothes, as well as the way that many of the Shinaran people see him as a lord or prince because of the coincidence in his name, al’Thor resembling a prefix used in their land to denote royalty, thematically signals the proper beginning of his journey to being a great nobleman and hero, as the Dragon Reborn. I was particularly struck by his musings about having new boots before the old ones wore out. For a poor man or commoner, replacing something before you have to is a waste of money and resources. But from a noble or wealthy man’s perspective, investing in something new before the start of a new journey is a prudent move. It makes me wonder if and when we might see Rand’s perspective shift from the former to the latter; when his acceptance of who he is might coincide with the mentality of a different station.

I was confused by the dragon emblem on the cloak, however; I understand that Moiraine knows who Rand is now, but no one else does yet, including Rand, and such an obvious marker seems like a dead giveaway. I didn’t think Moiraine would have told the Amyrlin, or anyone else, who Rand really was, but wouldn’t that emblem announce his identity to any Aes Sedai or Warder who saw it? Perhaps she expected that Rand would keep it hidden until the time is right? Rand’s reaction to the emblem suggests that he has a pretty good idea of what it means, too. I suppose the most likely thing is that Rand assumes that Moriaine (and perhaps the rest of Tar Valon) might want to set him up as another False Dragon; after all, he’s been warned by both friends and enemies that the Aes Sedai might use him in such a way. But I will have to wait and see for sure.

I don’t love that Mat, Perrin, and Loial are out of the loop about Rand’s abilities. Of course it makes sense that Moiraine would want to keep the information close, and that Rand wouldn’t want anyone to know who didn’t have to. But I can see more separation coming for the three friends who started this journey, and it makes me sad. Perrin is hiding as well, and Mat’s curse will probably continue to cause difficulty for him in ways not yet foreseen. Nynaeve and Egwene may be able to stay together for a long time yet, to journey to Tar Valon and learn to become Aes Sedai, to maintain their friendship and continue to work together, but I imagine that the three young men who began the last book so close knit will soon suffer a parting that lasts a very long time. And it’s hard not to wish that they would confide more in each other, fears of who they are and what they might do aside. Perrin and Rand might do a lot to bolster each other, both facing futures that will be inevitably altered by their abilities, and both without anyone else like them to confide in.

At least Egwene is going to demand that Rand stick around for a while. Whatever else one might think of that girl, she is both stubborn and crafty. I thought the bit of her knocking Rand down and sitting on him was really funny, as well as both of their childish instances that they will use the One Power against each other, even though neither has enough control to do so safely, or at all. It will be interesting to see what Egwene is willing to do to protect Rand going forward, and it’s nice to see her siding with him even though it means she might possibly be going against Moirane and the Aes Sedai whose ranks she wishes to join. But I suppose that her secret visits to Padan Fain are a less nice part of her rebellion against having to tell Moiriane everything and always follow her judgement; that seems very dangerous, bordering on foolish.

Next week we finally get to meet the infamous Amyrlin Seat, and, to my great pleasure, we will see things from Moiriane’s point of view. I hope you’ll join me for Part 3, covering Chapters 4 and 5, and in the meantime, I will see you down in the comments!

Sylas K Barrett is very curious to know if dragons are or were real in the world of The Wheel of Time, or if the tittle of the defender of the Light comes from a purely mythical creature. He is also on vacation this week, so he apologizes if he’s not in the comments much.

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