Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: Facing Fate on Your Feet in Robert Jordan’s The Great Hunt (Part 5)

Last week I incorrectly labeled the post as Part 3 when in fact it was Part 4, which makes this Part 5 of the read of The Great Hunt. Somehow I can’t believe it’s been five weeks already!

After how dense the last recap and analysis was, I’ve decided to slow it down a bit and just focus on one chapter this week—the very important Chapter 8: “The Dragon Reborn.” I suppose, given the title, I should have expected the way that the chapter unfolded, but Jordan actually surprised me here. I really thought that there would be more of a slow burn for Rand’s realizations of himself over the course of the book; granted, just because he’s been told some things doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to struggle with before he gets to a place where he might feel comfortable accepting his true identity.

Rand walks through the keep with Lan, growing more and more tense as they go. He is startled by a soldier crying out to them, “Tai’shar Malkier! Tai’shar Manetheren!” (True blood of Malkier! True blood of Manetheren!) as they pass, and has to remind himself that the people of Shienar know the story of Manetheren and there is nothing alarming in the recognition. As they approach the women’s apartments, Lan suddenly orders him into one of the movements from their training, “Cat Crosses the Courtyard,” which gives Rand an easy, confident strut as they come up before the women watching the entry. They are greeted formally and given two women to escort them to the Amyrlin’s chamber, despite Rand’s fear that they would be turned away as soon as the women saw that they were carrying swords.

They are brought before Leane and two other Aes Sedai Rand recognizes from his race through the hall on his way to rescue Egwene. Leane greets Lan without addressing Rand, calling him a young lion and remarking that if a Green saw him she would bond him immediately. But Lan gave Rand instructions on how to approach this encounter and he replies formally that he has come to his audience with the Amyrlin as he was summoned to do. After a moment Rand is let in, but Leane bars Lan from entering with him.

Rand is greeted by the Amyrlin, Moiraine, and Verin, and he offers a formal greeting, kneeling before the Amyrlin and refusing a seat when offered. The Amyrlin remarks that things will be difficult enough without teaching Rand to behave like a Warder; Moiraine replies that Lan has spent a lot of time with all the boys, but especially with Rand since he carries a sword. When the Amyrlin asks how Rand came by the Heron-marked blade, Moiraine surprises Rand by knowing Tam’s whole story.

“Tam al’Thor left the Two Rivers as a boy, Mother. He joined the army of Illian, and served in the Whitecloak War and the last two wars with Tear. In time he rose to be a blademaster and the Second Captain of the Companions. After the Aiel War, Tam al’Thor returned to the Two Rivers with a wife from Caemlyn and an infant boy. It would have saved much, had I known this earlier, but I know it now.”

The Amyrlin explains to Rand the Ingtar is to be sent to find the Horn, and that Mat (and most likely Perrin) will be sent along as well, so that Mat can find the dagger before being separated from it kills him. She asks Rand if he would like to accompany them. Rand is alarmed by the news that Mat is dying, and surprised by the fact that the Amyrlin is essentially telling him that he can do what he wants. But he is also suspicious that the Aes Sedai are trying to push him in a certain direction, and resolves to choose another, if he can. But Mat is in trouble, so he decides to travel with Ingtar.

With that question addressed, the Amyrlin comes to the point of Rand’s channeling. He reminds her and Moiriane that he wants to stop, but the Aes Sedai explain that, while anyone who could have taught Rand to master his abilities is dead, if he cannot learn to control them he will die as well, in time. Rand, flustered and fearful, calls up the void in his mind, imagining putting his fears into the single flame until he has regained control of himself and can speak calmly. The Amyrlin is surprised by this trick, and asks Moiriane if Lan taught it to him, but Moiraine explains that it is a skill Rand learned from Tam. When Rand asks why he isn’t going to be gentled, he is given a simple, terrible answer.

The Amyrlin Seat looked him straight in the eye and said, “Because you are the Dragon Reborn.” The void rocked. The world rocked. Everything seemed to spin around him. He concentrated on nothing, and the emptiness returned, the world steadied. “No, Mother. I can channel, the Light help me, but I am not Raolin Darksbane, nor Guaire Amalasan, nor Yurian Stonebow. You can gentle me, or kill me, or let me go, but I will not be a tame false Dragon on a Tar Valon leash.”

He heard Verin gasp, and the Amyrlin’s eyes widened, a gaze as hard as blue rock. It did not affect him; it slid off the void within.

The Amyrlin demands where he learned those names, who told him that Tar Valon controlled false dragons, and Rand answers that it was Thom Merrilin. The Amyrlin tells him that he is not a false dragon, but the true Dragon Reborn. The Moiraine tells a story, and as she sets the scene, Rand realizes that some of the historic details that she is describing fit with those that Tam mentioned during his fevered ramblings after the Trolloc attack. Moiraine describes how she and the Amyrlin, then just young Accepted in the Aes Sedai, were in the company of the then Amyrlin, along with her Keeper of the Chronicles, Gitara Moroso. Moiraine tells Rand about the The Karaethon Cycle: the Prophecies of the Dragon which said that Dragon would be reborn on Dragonmount, the mountain that was created when he killed himself during the Breaking of the World. That night when they were attending the Amyrlin and hearing the news of the fighting, Gitara, who had the power Foretelling, suddenly stood up, rigid, and announced that the Dragon had been born again, that she could feel him taking his first breaths on the slopes of Dragonmount, and then she died.

Rand tries not to accept the truth, but he keeps hearing Tam’s fevered description of finding a newborn baby on the slopes of the mountain. Moiraine continues to explain how the then Amyrlin swore them to secrecy and sent them to search for the child, looking for years, pouring over the Prophecies to find clues to the child’s identity. Eventually a prophecy that said that the Dragon would be of the ancient blood and raised by the old blood led Moiraine to the Two Rivers, where the blood of Manetheren was still strong and she found three boys who were named within weeks of the battle of Dragonmount. And one of them, Rand, can channel.

Rand is overcome, the void shattered, and he falls to his knees, desperately thinking that this is a trick, that it’s being said to manipulate them in some way.

“I will not be used by you.” [he says.]

“An anchor is not demeaned by being used to hold a boat,” the Amyrlin said. “You were made for a purpose, Rand al’Thor. ‘When the winds of Tarmon Gai’don scour the earth, he will face the Shadow and bring forth Light again in the world.’ The Prophecies must be fulfilled, or the Dark One will break free and remake the world in his image. The Last Battle is coming, and you were born to unite mankind and lead them against the Dark One.”

Rand insists that Ba’alzamon is dead, and the Amyrlin tells him that he’s a fool if he believes it. She tells him that facing the Dark One is his destiny, reminding Rand of the time Ba’alzamon said almost the same thing to him. Overwhelmed, Rand realizes that he’s crouching, cowering before the three Aes Sedai, and although he can’t refind the void, he forces himself to get to his feet. He asks what they are going to do with him, and is surprised that the answer is nothing. The Amyrlin tells him that both Perrin and Mat will have similar interviews, and that she has not marked him out in any way; other than the three women in the room, none of the Aes Sedai know any more than perhaps that he is ta’veren.

“The Prophecies must be fulfilled. We let you walk free, knowing what you are, because otherwise the world we know will die, and the Dark One will cover the earth with fire and death. Mark me, not all Aes Sedai feel the same. There are some here in Fal Dara who would strike you down if they knew a tenth of what you are, and feel no more remorse than for gutting a fish. But then, there are men who’ve no doubt laughed with you who would do the same, if they knew. Have a care, Rand al’Thor, Dragon Reborn.”

Rand finds himself feeling cold, sustained only by his anger, and formally asks if he can depart. The Amyrlin gives him permission, and then Rand tells them again that he will not be used, before leaving.

When Rand is gone, the three Aes Sedai briefly discuss their discomfort with what they have done, their worry over Rand’s strength and stubbornness, but agree that it was what had to be done, that the Prophecies have to be fulfilled.

Meanwhile, Nynaeve is contemplating her skill in listening to the wind; she can feel a storm coming, but it is not like her usual weather sense, there is something different and more foreboding in it. Catching sight of Rand striding through the halls with an escort of women, she realizes that any storm would have him at the center, and hurries to follow, but loses him in the corridors. The gossip of the women she passes lets her know that Rand has just seen the the Amyrlin and that he left in a hurry; she brushes away questions and tries to find Rand, consumed with worry for his safety and upbraiding herself that, as his Wisdom, she did not do more to ensure his protection.

But Nynaeve is aware that she may no longer be a Wisdom, that she has abandoned Emond’s Field and may never return to it. She struggles with this doubt for a while, then comes upon Lan, standing and looking out into the courtyard through an arrowslit. She thinks about how foolish her feelings for him are, mentally comparing herself to a lovesick girl, and trying to talk herself out of her feelings by finding flaws with him, such as his age and height. She thinks that a disposed king would not want a village woman anyway that he is bonded to another, but thinking of Moiraine only makes Nynaeve angry, knowing that the woman she dislikes so heavily has what Nynaeve most wants.

Lan notices her and before she can go, tell her that he has been wanting to talk to her. They briefly rehash the romantic conversation they once had, Nynaeve stubbornly reframing it to save her own pride.

“We said all we need to say long ago, you and I. I shamed myself—which I will not do again—and you told me to go away.”

“I never said—” He took a deep breath. “I told you I had nothing to offer for brideprice but widow’s clothes. Not a gift any man could give a woman. Not a man who can call himself a man.”

“I understand,” she said coolly. “In any case, a king does not give gifts to village women. And this village woman would not take them. Have you seen Rand? I need to talk to him. He was to see the Amyrlin. Do you know what she wanted with him?”

His eyes blazed like blue ice in the sun. She stiffened her legs to keep from stepping back, and met him glare for glare.

“The Dark One take Rand al’Thor and the Amyrlin Seat both,” he grated, pressing something into her hand. “I will make you a gift and you will take it if I have to chain it around your neck.”

He gives Nynaeve a gift of a signet ring of the Malkieri kings, insisting that she take it and either keep it or throw it away, as he has no use for it. He tells her also that showing it to someone from the Borderlands or to a Warder will grant her immediate help, and calls her mashiarai, meaning “beloved of heart and soul” but also “love lost.”

Moiraine startles Nynaeve from her musings, and Nynaeve asks what has happened to Rand. But Moiraine says only that ta’veren are so rare that the Amyrlin would not pass up a meeting with them. Nynaeve says that she should have taken the boys away from Moiraine when she could, but Moiraine reminds her that she could not do that, at least for one of them, and suggests that then Egwene would be forced to go to Tar Valon alone. And if Nynaeve doesn’t get teaching to use her power, she will never be able to use it against Moraine.

Nynaeve is surprised that Morinae knows her thoughts so intimately, and asks why Moiriane didn’t tell the Amyrlin about Rand’s ability and have him gentled; Moiraine deflects, confident that Nynaeve will remain dedicated to traveling to Tar Valon. Still seething, Nynaeve silently promises that she will learn, that she will put Moiraine down in revenge for everything she has done, to Mat and Perrin, to Egwene, to Rand… and to Nynaeve.

Later, Nynaeve comes to check it Egwene is done packing, and the two speak briefly about how it will be nice to be able to have private bathing chambers again, and Egwene muses on how Nynaeve is a Wisdom, but acts just like any other girl when she is in love, and how foolish it is that Lan doesn’t have “enough sense” to commit to her when they both so clearly want it. Nynaeve tells Egwene that it would be better for her not to call Nynaeve “Wisdom” anymore; after all they will just be two women in Tar Valon, and they may never see home again.

Just then one of Amalisa’s ladies arrives at Egwene’s door to say that Rand is causing an uproar, trying to get into the women’s apartments and wearing his sword again. Egwene goes down to see him, and they talk briefly about whether or not Egwene is planning to wed Rand. She finds him at the entrance making a fuss because he is afraid that he won’t get to see Egwene before he departs with Ingtar’s party, and she takes him off to walk and speak alone.

Egwene asks if the Amyrlin hurt him, Rand replies that she did not, but doesn’t tell Egwene anything about the encounter other than that the Amyrlin wanted to see ta’veren. He tells her they probably will never see her again, that he fears if they ever do meet she will want to gentle him. She promises to find a way to help him, and they embrace, and Egwene tells him to take care of himself. She thinks that she hears him say “I love you” before he hurries away.

 

As I mentioned last week, this is the chapter that made me miss my stop on the subway. Obviously the most exciting bit to read was the moment that Rand learns the truth about himself and his subsequent emotional struggle in the face of the Aes Sedai delivering it to him. Rand’s journey in this book will be very different from what I expected, since he has learned that he is the Dragon earlier than I thought he would. However, once I stopped frantically turning pages and stopped to really consider everything, I realized there is a lot of world building snuck into this chapter, as well as some good character work for people besides Rand.

One of the things we learned more about in this chapter is the culture of the Sheinarans, and their weird gender dynamics. At first I thought that the ladies guarding the entrance to the women’s apartments were there because of the attack on the keep, but it actually seems to be something that is always in practice. This gendered separation of housing seems at odds with some of the other things we know about Sheinaran tradition, such as how men and women of all stations are perfectly comfortable with communal bathing. However, after Agelmar’s discussion with Rand over the rules and customs around requesting entrance or sending a message to a woman in her apartments, it appears to have more to do with control than with some kind of social propriety. As with all the other cultures we have encountered this far (except maybe the Aiel?) there isn’t much gender equality in the world of The Wheel of Time; the division of duties and societal roles tend to fall along old-fashioned lines that western readers would find familiar; women in dresses as homemakers and healers, men as warriors and laborers, the only real gender equality coming from the position of women of noble birth, such as Queen Morgause coming from a matriarchal line of monarchs. Especially in Sheinar, where fighting is the order of life, men have much more command and control overall. Perhaps if Amalisa had been the first born and Agelmar was younger than her, she would be Lady of Fal Dara over her brother, but even then his command of the armies would elevate him above her in many ways. So perhaps the weirdness of the women’s apartments is a sort of societal concession; since women have less control over all, it is custom to grant them complete autonomy over this one area, even if, as Kajin points out, the men find their rules foolish.

The whole conversation between Nynaeve and the lady, Nisura, who fetches her for Rand is also pretty weird. I suppose one might put down the sense of men being “half-animals” to the fact that all the men of Sheinar spend most of their lives with swords in their hands, but it’s still discomfiting the way that the Shienaran women say that husbands have to be “housebroken,” as though they’re pets and not adult human beings. It isn’t that different from the way Nynaeve, Egwene, and the women’s council of the Two Rivers talk about men, and not that different than the people of our world often talk about the opposite gender, especially historically (women are from mars, men are from venus and all that malarkey) but that whole conversation, which lasts more than a whole page, just seems so silly and pointless.

Continuing on with the theme of strange gender dynamics, Leane is a bit… frisky, isn’t she? She can’t seem to pass up the opportunity to talk about handsome young men and what a Green would do to them, although I think it’s really what she would like to do to them. It was kind of cute the first time with Perrin but now it’s getting off-putting. Especially “Greens like to bond them young.” Brr. I think Leane might be repressing some desires and it’s coming out in a creepy way. It’s a good thing Lan has prepared Rand on how to conduct himself and things to say, or Rand would be wishing for Perrin to tell him how to talk to ladies again.

And then there is the audience between the Amyrlin and her allies and Rand al’Thor, the Dragon Reborn. I guess this was their new (new) plan, after the Horn was stolen, and I wonder how that discussion worked, and how Verin convinced Moiraine and the Amyrlin that she was worth trusting and bringing in on their plots. Her calm reason and logic? Her (probably feigned) lack of awareness of the real world? Something else? Moiraine did tell the Amyrlin that Rand was ta’veren, and therefore all their plans were subject to disruption, so perhaps they already had a backup in mind, but I wonder what that conversation was like as they decided that, now that the Horn was gone and they couldn’t trick him into going to Illian, they might as well just tell him the whole truth.

I’ve complained before about the gender dynamics of The Wheel of Time and, most specifically, about the black and white gendered division of the One Power, so I was really excited about one particular gem from Verin in this chapter. After Moiraine repeats her adage explaining how women cannot teach men to channel—the old “a bird cannot teach a fish to fly, a fish can’t teach teach a bird to swim,”—Verin interrupts with what appears to be a random thought.

“I have always thought that was a bad saying,” Verin said suddenly. “There are birds that dive and swim. And in the Sea of Storms are fish that fly, with long fins that stretch out as wide as your outstretched arms, and beaks like swords that can pierce….”

Moiraine and the Amyrlin appear put off by this observation, or at least don’t approve of this divergence from the point, but I was standing on the sidelines with pompoms cheering. Go Verin, burn gender essentialism to the ground! They may say the Browns are more disconnected from the world, but from where I’m sitting Verin seems to be the only one who can really think outside of the box. And that is probably going to be a valuable thing, going forward, given the paradox of needing the Dragon to channel but knowing that the channeling will destroy him. (And maybe the world? I’m still a bit unclear on that part.)

I found the Amyrlin’s reply to Rand’s insistence that he would not be used extremely unsatisfying, which I am sure is what Jordan intended. Our hero is being asked to grapple with a very painful reality, which is that being the Chosen One is basically one of the worst fates that could be visited on a man. The Amyrlin is perfectly aware of how terrible a burden this will be, and even if she did feel sympathy for Rand, she certainly wouldn’t show it. But as a reader, the reply of “An anchor is not demeaned by being used to hold a boat” was just devastating. I was a little surprised we weren’t given a description of how the comment made Rand feel—perhaps he was too overwhelmed to process individual reactions—but then I realized that I didn’t need the explanation, because my own emotional reaction was more than enough. The Amrylin isn’t telling Rand he’s more than a tool, she is telling him that this is exactly what he is, merely insisting that it is not an insult to be used. It’s odd and yet fitting, I think, to realize that the Chosen One of a story is both the most important and powerful, and yet the least in control or given to have a real life. And I expect that was the message Jordan was trying to convey in this chapter.

It was great to finally get the full story behind how Moiraine (and the Amyrlin) was put on the path of looking for the Dragon Reborn in the first place. One assumes when we meet her in in the beginning that her solitary quest originated because she’s smarter or more insightful or more dedicated than her counterparts, much like Gandalf in comparison to the other Maiar. But in keeping with the mythology of the world, we now see that it was some kind of fate—i.e. the Pattern—that led only Moiraine Damodred and Siuan Sanche to hear the Foretelling of Rand’s birth. Not to say that this discounts Moiraine as smarter, more intuitive, or more dedicated; after all, the Wheel chose her for this task for a reason.

After being so great with Rand in the beginning of this chapter, Lan really annoyed me with the way he handled his gift to Nynaeve. For all that Nynaeve can be over-proud, stubborn, and easily angered, everything she says to him is so clearly intended to protect her heart, and Lan, as the one who refused her advances, holds all the power in the encounter. He knows she’s hurting, but he treats her hurt roughly, stating angrily that he will force her to accept a gift that she does not want, then dismissing its importance by saying that he has no use for it, then declaring that, despite the fact that he cannot be with her, he will come to her aid no matter what if the ring is sent to him. He’s clearly trying to assuage his own feelings with some sort of compromise, but he’s unwilling to see that this may just cause her more pain. Still, I have a feeling that ring is going to be very important before this story is through.

In contrast to Lan not understanding Nynaeve’s feelings and Nynaeve projecting all her pain and anger onto Moiraine for no real reason, Rand and Egwene are finally handling their feelings for each other like adults. They both realize that their paths are diverting, and don’t try to diminish or hide their own feelings because of it. Rand is a little afraid of Egwene becoming an Aes Sedai and turning on him, but ultimately, neither blames the other for things they cannot control, and that parting was beautifully bittersweet. I was proud of both of them.

 

We get a bit of a break next week, with some traveling and some hunting, a few interesting new faces, and, to my great delight, we get a return visit from Bayle Domon of the Spray. Tune in next week for Chapters 9 and 10, and in the meantime, remember to white-out your spoilers and I will see you down in the comments!

If Sylas Barrett lived in an epic fantasy, he wouldn’t be the chosen one. He’d probably be the Sam or the Perrin.

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