Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: A Game of Trollocs in Robert Jordan’s The Great Hunt (Part 15)

The strange thing about writing a recap of a chapter or story is that action sequences can result in a long recap but not necessarily a long analysis. Thus, it’s a slightly slower week in Reading The Wheel of Time, but it is not slow for Rand. Reuniting with Thom doesn’t go quite as he had hoped, he gets to see the inside of the secret Illuminator chapter house, and he’s chased by Trollocs again. Oh, I almost forgot the worst part: Selene shows up again. There were a lot of little moments to be enjoyed in this section, however. I was interested to see that Thom has found a companion, and there are some lovely and moving bits with Loial. I also googled what a swordbreaker is—I believe that the weapon has been mentioned as being carried by the Sheinarans before, but when Hurin was cleaning his at the end of Chapter 27 I finally stopped and looked it up. Apparently it’s a sturdy dagger set with notches almost like a comb, which can catch a descending sword and twist the weapon from the weilder’s hand, or even break the blade. So there’s a cool piece of medieval trivia for those who, like me, enjoy learning that kind of thing but aren’t knowledgable enough to have heard of a swordbreaker before now.

This is what is so cool about being a writer—you get to learn so much about so many different subjects.

Rand rushes back to his room, so overjoyed to have found Thom alive that he actually grins at the innkeeper, and goes straight to the wardrobe to retrieve the bundle of Thom’s possessions. His abrupt arrival startles Hurin and Loial, who were in their own room, smoking. Rand fills them in, and invites Loial, to whom he has talked about Thom before, to come meet the gleeman. Hurin is happy to keep watch, since he found himself the object of too much attention and too many questions while in the common room. But Rand for once is unconcerned about what anyone thinks, and urges Loial to come with him, even though Loial is still concerned about running into other Ogier. He tells Rand that he might be in a lot of trouble when he goes home, so much so that he wonders if he wouldn’t be able to find an abandoned stedding to stay in for a while. Rand, not really listening, tells Loial that he can always stay in Emond’s Field, and bustles him out of the room, cutting off Loial’s attempt to explain why that wouldn’t be possible. Rand winks at the innkeeper on their way out of the inn.

They have an easy time finding The Bunch of Grapes, and the innkeeper sends them up to Thom’s room, telling them that Dena will probably let them wait for Thom there. Rand knocks at the door, and a woman’s voice tells him to enter. Coming inside, they find a large room packed with chests and belongings, and a woman seated on the bed juggling. She clearly thinks they’re just delivering something, but Rand explains that they are waiting for Thom and asks if she is Dena. When she sees Loial she makes a remark about the Ogier being back, and then demands to know what they want. Rand explains that he has brought Thom’s flute and harp, and asks if they can stay and wait to talk to their friend. Dena, observing that Thom always complains about losing the best harp and flute he ever has, acquiesces, but tells them that she need to keep practicing in the meantime.

Rand asks if Dena is Thom’s apprentice, to which she replies coyly “You might say that.” She tells them that she intends be the first female gleeman, and that she will see the whole world before she is done. She says also that once they have enough money, Thom intends to take her down to Tear, and then perhaps to the Sea Folk’s islands. Rand, looking around, doesn’t feel like this is the room of someone who intends to move on soon, and, observing the flowerpot in the window and the fact that the room has only one big bed, begins to figure out what else Dena might be to Thom.

He is just suggesting that they should wait downstairs when Thom suddenly arrives, striding over to embrace and kiss Dena thoroughly before launching into a diatribe about a group of “players” and how they’re acting and backdrops can’t compare to Thom’s ability to make the audience see the scene and imagine themselves as the heroes. When she points out to him that they have company, he pauses to take Rand and Loial in, then asks her to leave them alone. He sends her off to collect some knives that were being made for her, and she leaves, a little reluctantly.

Thom remarks proudly that she will be a bard one day, telling them of her memory for the tales and skill with a harp, before remarking that he had heard while in Caemlyn that Rand was traveling in the company of an Ogier. He greets Loial cordially. Loial returns the greeting, and remarks that Dena told them that she was going to be a gleeman. But Thom brushes that off, saying that the gleeman’s life is not fit for a woman, and is barely fit for a man. He’s certain that he’ll talk her around, and that she’ll be a court bard one day. Then, getting to the business at hand, he asks for his instruments.

Rand produces them, and Thom seems a little struck by the fact that they are still wrapped in his old cloak. Rand remarks upon having earned his supper a few times with the flute, which Thom also heard about, and he’s glad that Rand didn’t touch the harp, which he says is too delicate for a shepherd’s fingers.

Rand leaned across the table toward him. “Thom, you wanted to go to Illian, to see the Great Hunt set out, and be one of the first to make new stories about it, but you couldn’t. What would you say if I told you you could still be a part of it? A big part?”

Loial stirred uneasily. “Rand, are you sure… ?” Rand waved him to silence, his eyes on Thom.

Thom glanced at the Ogier and frowned. “That would depend on what part, and how. If you’ve reason to believe one of the Hunters is coming this way…. I suppose they could have left Illian already, but he’d be weeks reaching here if he rode straight on, and why would he? Is this one of the fellows who never went to Illian? He’ll never make it into the stories without the blessing, whatever he does.”

“It doesn’t matter if the Hunt has left Illian or not.” Rand heard Loial’s breath catch. “Thom, we have the Horn of Valere.”

Thom is moved to almost uncontrollable laughter by the suggestion that that “a shepherd and a beardless Ogier” could have the Horn. He tells them all the places they might find some charlatan claiming to have or even be selling the “true” Horn, and it’s only when Rand tells him that Moiraine says it’s the Horn that Thom falls silent in surprise. He reminds Rand that he claimed Moiraine wasn’t with them and Rand reiterates that he hasn’t seen her since they left Fal Dara. He urges Thom to come with them to return the Horn to Fal Dara, knowing that Thom wanted to write new stories about the Hunt, and needing someone with his knowledge to help them navigate the world.

The gleeman pushed back his chair and went to stare out of the window. “The Horn of Valere. That means the Last Battle is coming. Who will notice? Did you see the people laughing in the streets out there? Let the grain barges stop a week, and they won’t laugh. Galldrian will think they’ve all become Aiel. The nobles all play the Game of Houses, scheming to get close to the King, scheming to gain more power than the King, scheming to pull down Galldrian and be the next King. Or Queen. They will think Tarmon Gai’don is only a ploy in the Game.” He turned away from the window. “I don’t suppose you are talking about simply riding to Shienar and handing the Horn to—who?—the King? Why Shienar? The legends all tie the Horn to Illian.”

Rand looked at Loial. The Ogier’s ears were sagging. “Shienar, because I know who to give it to, there. And there are Trollocs and Darkfriends after us.”

“Why does that not surprise me? No. I may be an old fool, but I will be an old fool in my own way. You take the glory, boy.”

Rand tries again, but Thom cuts him off with a sharp no, and Rand asks Loial to leave them alone for a bit. Loial goes downstairs, intending to investigate the dice game he saw in the common room, and Rand sits for a moment under Thom’s suspicious gaze, trying to figure out how to ask what he needs to know.

After a moment, he asks the gleeman if there are any books that have The Karaethon Cycle. Thom explains that there are plenty in the great libraries, and complains about the difficulties of translating from the Old Tongue.

…. There is one verse in the Cycle—it doesn’t scan well, translated word for word, but there’s no meaning lost—that goes like this.

“Twice and twice shall he be marked,

twice to live, and twice to die.

Once the heron, to set his path.

Twice the heron, to name him true.

Once the Dragon, for remembrance lost.

Twice the Dragon, for the price he must pay.”

He reached out and touched the herons embroidered on Rand’s high collar.

Rand reminds him that the sword, with herons on its hilt, scabbard, and blade, makes five herons, which makes Thom chuckle. But Rand is suddenly conscious of his scared palm, and turns his hand down on the table.

Thom recites another verse, about the Dragon’s blood being spilled in Shayol Ghu to free men from the Shadow, and muses about how the Aes Sedai will want to make events fit the Prophecies as closely as they can, despite the apparent contradictions in the verses. Dying in the Blasted Lands, he says, would be a high price to pay for going along with them.

Rand repeats that he is not being used, that there are no Aes Sedai with him, and Thom counters by asking why Rand would inquire about the Prophecies and why he would send Loial away before doing so. Rand explains that the Horn makes Loial nervous and that he doesn’t want to upset him. He wanted to ask if the Horn was in any of the Prophecies, seeing as how everyone thinks it will be the Dragon who wields it to summon the army of dead heroes. He surprises Thom with the information that the army will fight for whoever wields the Horn, be he Dragon or Darkfriend. But he repeats again that it doesn’t mean he will let the Aes Sedai use him.

“For a time, boy, [Thom says] I thought you were the one Moiraine wanted, and I even thought I knew why. You know, no man chooses to channel the Power. It is something that happens to him, like a disease. You cannot blame a man for falling sick, even if it might kill you, too.”

This prompts Rand to ask about Thom’s nephew, and Thom tells him how Owen held off the madness for almost three years, never touching the Power except to help his village. He admits reluctantly that there wasn’t really a choice for the Aes Sedai, the people of Owen’s village told Thom that he had been acting strange for the last year. But even if the Aes Sedai only did what they had to do, Thom can’t love them for it, and after Owen was gentled, Thom’s nephew gave up wanting to live and passed away. Thom tells Rand that, if Moiraine really has let him go, he is well out of it.

Rand asks again about Thom accompanying them to Fal Dara, realizing that he sounds a little like Selene as he urges Thom to consider what it would be like to tell of how he once held the Horn in his hands, when other gleemen could only recite stories about others’ exploits. Thom is clearly tempted, but he refuses, explaining to Rand that he has a good life in the Foregate, that for some reason Dena loves him, and—even more surprising—he finds that he loves her too.

Now, why should I leave that to go be chased by Trollocs and Darkfriends? The Horn of Valere? Oh, it is a temptation, I’ll admit, but no. No, I will not get mixed up in it again.”

He leaned over to pick up one of the wooden instrument cases, long and narrow. When he opened it, a flute lay inside, plainly made but mounted with silver. He closed it again and slid it across the table. “You might need to earn your supper again someday, boy.”

“I might at that,” Rand said. “At least we can talk. I will be in—”

The gleeman was shaking his head. “A clean break is best, boy. If you’re always coming around, even if you never mention it, I won’t be able to get the Horn out of my head. And I won’t be tangled in it. I won’t.”

But after Rand has left, Thom doesn’t find it that easy to stop thinking about the Horn, how a farmboy, of all people, could have come across it. He does his best to push the thoughts away, thinking of how Dena is too special of a talent to be abandoned, and she loves him besides.

“Old fool,” he muttered.

“Aye, an old fool,” Zera said from the door. He gave a start; he had been so absorbed in his thoughts that he had not heard the door open. He had known Zera for years, off and on in his wanderings, and she always took full advantage of the friendship to speak her mind. “An old fool who’s playing the Game of Houses again. Unless my ears are failing, that young lord has the sound of Andor on his tongue. He’s no Cairhienin, that’s for certain sure. Daes Dae’mar is dangerous enough without letting an outland lord mix you in his schemes.”

Thom is surprised, then realizes that Rand’s outfit was fancy enough to make Zera think he was a lord. He catches himself considering whether to tell Zera the truth or allow her to keep thinking what she does, and thinks about how easy it is to slip into that kind of scheming. He tells her the truth, that Rand is a shepherd from the Two Rivers, which Zera clearly doesn’t believe. She reminds him how dangerous the Game of Houses is, how it has grown even more dangerous in recent years, and when Thom denies playing, she points out that he has begin performing at the lords’ manor. She knows they will pull him into their plots as soon as they can figure out how.

Zera urges him to let go of playing the Great Game, to marry Dena and forget Daes Dae’mar. Thom thanks her wryly—privately thinking of how ridiculous it would be to marry Dena, saddling her with an old husband whose past will mar her opportunities to become a court bard—and asks to be left alone to prepare for his next performance.

Zera leaves, and Thom is left to convince himself that Rand is still no more than a shepherd. If he had been, if he had been a man who could channel the way Thom had once suspected, then Moiraine would have never let Rand walk away without gentling him first.

“He is out of it,” he said aloud, “and so am I.”

Rand and Loial make their way back through the Foregate, Rand consumed with his regrets over Thom’s refusal and the feeling that he can’t wait anymore for Ingtar to arrive, Loial confused by how Dena beat him at the dice game. Neither of them is paying much attention to the goat-horned Trolloc puppet, worked by five men, coming towards them until it is almost upon them; then, the men drop their poles and the Trolloc, not a puppet at all but real, attacks Rand.

Rand acts entirely on instinct, unsheathing his sword and cutting the Trolloc down in one smooth arc. The fake puppeteer Darkfriends look at his sword and at Loial, then turn and run.

Rand starts to tell Loial that they need to get back to the inn, lest the Darkfriends find Hurin alone, when suddenly he is grabbed from behind by a second Trolloc and lifted from the ground. One hand goes around his throat, but just as quickly it is torn away again, by Loial, who is struggling to pull the Trolloc’s arms away. He manages it after a moment, and Rand scrambles away, wanting to help Loial but not able to get near the wrestling pair with his sword. Watching them struggle, the Trolloc starting to pull its sword free despite having one of Loial’s arms around its neck, Rand realizes that the Power is the only way he can help the Ogier. He forms the void, finding saidin there, but it slips away from him as he reaches for it. Each time he touches only the taint, feeling it slide off on to him, but no matter how many times he reaches for it it slips away.

Finally, Loial throws the Trolloc against the wall so hard its neck breaks. Rand releases the void as soon as he realizes what has happened and rushes to help the Ogier.

“I never… killed before, Rand.” Loial drew a shuddering breath.

“It would have killed you if you hadn’t,” Rand told him. Anxiously, he looked at the alleys and shuttered windows and barred doors. Where there were two Trollocs, there had to be more. “I’m sorry you had to do it, Loial, but it would have killed both of us, or worse.”

“I know. But I cannot like it. Even a Trolloc.” Pointing toward the setting sun, the Ogier seized Rand’s arm. “There’s another of them.”

Rand looks, seeing another “puppet”, clearly fake now that he knows what to look for. He knows that Fain is hunting him, but the fact that he is worried about the Trollocs being seen means that they will probably be safe if they can get to a street with people in it. They hurry off, heading towards the sound of music and people, but each time they are cut off by another fake puppet until they are driven further and further away from the city and down dark streets with shuttered, quiet houses. Finally, Loial points out that there is nowhere else to go; they have been driven to the edge of the houses and are almost to the bare, empty hills outside of the Foregate. And once they are out there, the Trollocs won’t have to worry anymore about being seen.

But Rand spies a group of walled buildings on a hill, which he takes to be a lord’s manor. He suggests that perhaps they would be willing to receive an Ogier and an outland lord-the fancy heron coat must be good for something. But Loial counters his suggestion, saying that he believes it to be an Illuminators’ chapter house, to which even the King himself would probably not be admitted.

Just then, Rand hears a familiar voice and detects a familiar scent; Selene is there, asking him what trouble he’s gotten into this time.

Rand stared: Selene stepped around the corner they had just rounded, her white dress bright in the dimness. “How did you get here? What are you doing here? You have to leave immediately. Run! There are Trollocs after us.”

“So I saw.” Her voice was dry, yet cool and composed. “I came to find you, and I find you allowing Trollocs to herd you like sheep. Can the man who possesses the Horn of Valere let himself be treated so?”

“I don’t have it with me,” he snapped, “and I don’t know how it could help if I did. The dead heroes are not supposed to come back to save me from Trollocs. Selene, you have to get away. Now!” He peered around the corner.

But it’s too late for her to do so, Rand can see at least two Trollocs as well as the shadows of Darkfriends, and he decides they must try for the chapter house anyway, sneaking in if the won’t be invited. He wraps Selene in his cloak to hide the brightness of her white dress and cuts off Loial’s protest, getting them all moving. Selene tells him to seek the Oneness, that he is letting himself become flustered and that one who would be great should always be calm. Rand reminds her that he doesn’t want to be great and that the Trollocs might hear her.

When they reach the wall, Loial can look back and see the Trollocs running towards them. He starts again to warn Rand off his plan, but this time Selene cuts him off, pointing to a nearby door. She tugs it open and Rand pushes Loial inside, hushing him. They find themselves in an alley lined with plastered walls, and Rand remarks that it’d be better to get arrested by the Illuminators than caught by Trollocs. Loial interjects that this is what he’s been trying to tell Rand, that the Illuminators are so careful of their secrets that they kill intruders. Rand is of the opinion that humans are still a better bet than Trollocs though, and he apologizes to Selene for getting her into this.

But Selene is perfectly calm, and remarks that danger adds a certain something before setting off deeper into the compound. Hidden, they overhear two Illuminators discussing plans for a display, and they can see long racks of tubes and shapes, the fireworks.

All the fireworks [Rand] had ever seen could be held in one hand, and that was as much as he knew, except that they burst with a great roar, or whizzed along the ground in spirals of sparks, or sometimes shot into the air. They always came with warnings from the Illuminators that opening one could cause it to go off. In any case, fireworks were too expensive for the Village Council to have allowed anybody unskilled to open one. He could well remember the time when Mat had tried to do just that; it was nearly a week before anyone but Mat’s own mother would speak to him. The only thing that Rand found familiar at all was the cords—the fuses. That, he knew, was where you set the fire.

Wanting to be farther away from the unlocked door they came in through, Rand leads the group down between the racks of fireworks, which soon proves a questionable decision, as the wooden racks and their contents rattle at the slightest brush, and Loial can barely fit between them. Meanwhile, Selene does not bump anything, but neither does she seem at all concerned, not even bothering to keep Rand’s cloak closed to hide the white of her dress from anyone who happened to look out a window. They are almost to the end of the racks and to the houses and alleyways beyond, when Loail knocks a rack of sticks which begin to smoulder and topple over onto a wick for one of the tubes. Rand hisses for them to get behind the nearby low wall, and bears Selene to the ground behind it.

For a moment they lie there, and then there is a hollow thump. Rand lifts his head to see the end of the tube smoking faintly—Selene, angrily, punches him in the ribs and wriggles free—and then suddenly the sky is illuminated by the giant explosion of a red and white flower. People come, running and shouting.

He pressed Loial and Selene back against the wall, hoping they looked like just another shadow. “Be still and be silent,” he whispered. “It’s our only hope.”

“Sometimes,” Selene said quietly, “if you are very still, no one can see you at all.” She did not sound the least bit worried.

They stay still, watching and listening as the two Illuminators they overheard before return, he one upbraiding the other for his carelessness in readying the display, despite his protests that everything had been set up perfectly. Despite the fact that he needs only to turn his head to see them, the man cleans up and leaves without ever noticing the trio hiding in the shadows.

Rand breathes out that the can’t expect anymore luck like that tonight, shushing Selene when she retorts that great men make their own luck.But Loial interrupts that they are going to need more luck after all—he can see three Trolloc peering out of the shadows from the direction they came.

“So,” Selene said quietly. “It becomes a trap. These people may kill you if they take you. The Trollocs surely will. But perhaps you can slay the Trollocs too quickly for them to make any outcry. Perhaps you can stop the people from killing you to preserve their little secrets. You may not want greatness, but it will take a great man to do these things.”

“You don’t have to sound happy about it,” Rand said. He tried to stop thinking about how she smelled, how she felt, and the void almost surrounded him. He shook it away.

Rand looks around, trying to make a plan as Selene continues, angrily, that his greatness will make her happy, and that perhaps she should leave him for a while; perhaps he deserves to die, if he won’t take greatness while it’s in his grasp.

Rand does his best to ignore her, instructing Loial to take Selene down a nearby alley. If there is a door there, they can get out, and if there isn’t, Loial can lift Selene up so she can climb over the wall. Loial agrees, but points out that the Trollocs will come after them if they move, and Rand answers that he will deal with the Trollocs.

Rand thinks that with the void, he just might be able to defeat all three, but the thought of saidin being there dissuades him from summoning it as Loial and Selene move towards the alley. The Trollocs spot them instantly, but they hesitate, because there is a woman in an upstairs window who will see them if they move. Loial calls back that there is a door, and at that the Trollocs finally move, stepping into the light and drawing a scream from the woman in the window.

Rand moves at once, knowing that he has to stop the Trollocs or they will all be run down, and snatches up one of the sticks Loial knocked over earlier, which is still smouldering. He levels one of the hollow tubes at the Trollocs and lights the fuse; immediately there is the same hollow thump and Rand is thrown backwards as there is a heavy explosion of sound and light. When he can get up again, shaken and with ringing ears, he finds half the racks knocked down and the corner of the building where the Trollocs were completely blown away, nothing but smouldering and burning timber remaining. He staggers after Loial and Selene as the Illuminators come running to put the fire out.

Rand stumbles over his own cloak in the alley and snatches it up without stopping. He finds Loial at the end of the alley beside an open door, but the Ogier confesses that Selene broke away from him and ran back into the chapter house. Rand is ready to go back for her, but Loial catches his shoulder and tells him that there is nothing they can do. They dash out the door even as someone appears in the alley to spot them.

They cross the hills back towards the Foregate, no Trollocs appearing and the fire dying down behind them, apparently successfully extinguished by the Illuminators. Rand assures Loial that Selene’s actions are not his fault, even as Rand tries to think of how he could help her. They return to The Defender of the Dragonwall without any more difficulty, where Rand finds the innkeeper waiting with another sealed parchment, this time bearing the moon and stars that Selene uses. Rand thanks him and goes upstairs to find Hurin safe and the chest undisturbed. He opens the parchment and finds a letter from Selene.

When I think I know what you are going to do, you do something else. You are a dangerous man. Perhaps it will not be long before we are together again. Think of the Horn. Think of the glory. And think of me, for you are always mine.

Again, it bore no signature but the flowing hand itself.

“Are all women crazy?” Rand demanded of the ceiling. Hurin shrugged. Rand threw himself into the other chair, the one sized for an Ogier; his feet dangled above the floor, but he did not care. He stared at the blanket-covered chest under the edge of Loial’s bed. Think of the glory. “I wish Ingtar would come.”

 

Poor Rand. Ta’veren pull others around them, but they are also pulled by the Pattern, and it doesn’t help when there are plenty of other schemes and plans to be caught up in besides that of the Wheel of Time itself. His analogy about how he and Hurin and Loial are floundering in deep water is an accurate one, and all-in-all, it’s impressive that they’re still managing to keep afloat.

I don’t believe for a second that Thom Merrilin is going to be able to resist getting involved again. It’s clear enough that it’s not in his nature to stay on the sidelines; no matter how aware he is of the danger, I don’t think he’s going to be able to stop himself. And anyway, he’s probably as caught up in Rand’s ta’veren web as everyone else, whether he knows it or not.

I was a little put off by Thom’s patriarchal dismissal of Dena’s desire to be a gleeman and see the world, until I remembered Thom’s own history, and how being a court bard was his true passion. It’s a life, I suspect, he dearly misses. So he isn’t dismissing Dena as unable to handle the life because she’s a woman, he’s wishing for something better for someone he cares about, and probably also is living a little vicariously through the future he imagines she will be able to achieve.

But surely Thom knows better than to think that just because the Aes Sedai aren’t seen to be around, that means their machinations can’t still be at work. Just because he can’t think of a reason Rand might be let go and still be a channeler doesn’t mean there can’t be one, and it’s also possible, as far as Thom could know, that Moiraine might have some other interest in Rand. But of course, he doesn’t want to ask the questions that might lead him to any theories, because he’s trying to stay out of it.

I was moved when Thom gave Rand the replacement flute, though. His affection for the shepherd he was once willing to give his life for is clear, and Rand could use all the affection he can get, even if it doesn’t help him get the Horn back to Fal Dara.

I liked watching Rand try to tackle the same questions that Moiraine was pondering back in Chapter 22, attempting to find a way that the Horn could be related to the Dragon. And I really want to know more about the bit about the herons. I assume the first mark is the sword (hilt, blade and scabbard counting as one) and the burn on his palm is the second. One to set his path (the sword was given to him when he left the Two Rivers, and the void trick being used for fighting has led to Rand discovering how to channel) and the second to mark him as the true Dragon (Ba’alzamon has recognized him as the Dragon Reborn, even if Rand has not accepted it yet). The coat, as much as Rand has passionate feelings about it, is nothing more than Moiraine’s attempt to recognize the importance of herons to Rand, and maybe to give him a symbol for others to recognize, outside of the prophecies.

Thom has a lot of interesting little asides in this chapter; I wasn’t quite sure if he was just complaining that the “players” weren’t very good or if he was literally bemoaning the new invention of actors (but I hope it’s the latter, because that’s hilarious.) His observation that the people of Cairhien will hardly notice the arrival of the Last Battle, and will think that it’s just another part of the Game is another reminder, from someone other than an Aes Sedai, of the problems and degradation of the time in which Rand is living. Like the Whitecloaks who can’t tell good people from Darkfriends, or those Aes Sedai view all men as evil because some may, through no fault of their own, become infected with the taint, this world seems to have lost track of itself and its true path. Or rather, the humans have. The Dark doesn’t seem to have forgotten anything. I suppose vigilance is a hard thing to maintain indefinitely; the Shienarans have the Blight to keep them on their toes but for those who have dwelt in relative safety, remembering what is coming is probably difficult, especially when no one knows when it will come.

If Thom does end up falling back in with Rand, I wonder how much it will take for him to figure out the truth. The old gleeman is pretty shrewd, and I’m not sure he really convinced himself that Rand is as out of it as it appears.

The Darkfriends’ trick of pretending that real Trollocs were puppets was pretty clever, and shows how Fain (the Mordeth side, anyway) can think outside the box better than your average Darkfriend. Maybe he was a bit hasty in killing all those other Darkfriend in the beginning of his journey out of Fal Dara, though; a greater number of humans would be useful in searching a town that Trollocs can’t be caught entering. But Mordeth/Fain’s cockiness is one of the things that lost him the Horn and dagger in the first place, so I guess it’s not a huge surprise.

But Mordeth/Fain (they need a combo name. Like a ship name but for possession. Faindeth? Morfain? Neither of those really roll off the tongue, do they?) isn’t the only clever one. I was very impressed with Rand’s resourcefulness in using the firework to kill the Trollocs. Given what we have learned so far about the danger of over-relying on the One Power, it’s nice for Rand to be reminded that he has skills and intelligence besides the ability to channel. His concern over being used by the Aes Sedai (and others, though he hasn’t realized it yet) won’t abate when he finally accepts his identity as the Dragon—if anything, it will get worse. And I think that remembering his passions and strengths as Rand al’Thor will serve him in very good stead even when he does master the use of saidin.

I was also pleased that he’s getting as annoyed with Selene as I am. It’s very important that Rand is beginning to more consciously recognize her influence on him and engage with it accordingly; Selene is not very subtle but it’s still possible for her to steer Rand in directions he does not wish to go. He may not yet realize who else besides the Aes Sedai wants to manipulate him, but knowing his own mind and freeing himself from distractions is about more than being able to use the void whenever he wishes, and Rand is going to be playing more than just the Game of Houses before he is finished with his destiny.

I’ve been thinking more about the possible dangers of using the void. I’ve touched on this in past weeks, but I’m still thinking that, while the void is useful for being calm and connected in order to perform certain tasks, staying in it all the time could really damage a person’s empathy. The void separates you from your emotions, not just fear or sadness, but any emotion that you might feel, including those towards other people. Stay in it too long, and you might not care anymore how your actions affect others, might lose your desire for connection, understanding, even love. The trait of empathy only exists as long as you have the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and the void would remove that.

It is often more difficult for wealthy and privileged people to have a healthy amount of empathy, because status elevates you beyond other people and you stop engaging with the problems that the majority faces. It is of course possible to maintain those empathy muscles with some effort and attention, but I think it’s worth noting how this idea plays into the “chosen one” concept that is so favored in epic fantasy. Frodo is not the ring bearer because he is particularly wise or powerful, but rather because he is kind and unambitious (and brave, and other qualities of course, but for the sake of simplicity we’ll stick to the basics). Harry Potter doesn’t defeat Voldemort because he is a super powerful wizard, but rather because of his love for his friends and willingness to sacrifice anything for them. Even Luke Skywalker, though he comes from legacy blood, has more strength from his compassion and innocence as a simple farmboy, and he only defeats evil because he is unwilling to embrace hate and power-lust to do it. I anticipate that, going forward, Rand will become a powerful wielder and swordsman and leader, but that his simple wishes and loves, his remembrance of the Two Rivers and his desire to make a living playing the flute, will serve him as well as those great powers the Dragon commands.

And speaking of empathy, my heart really went out to Loial. Like Perrin, the Ogier is struggling with the fact that he has never been a violent person (he’s mentioned before that Ogier aren’t violent and rarely use weapons) and was forced to kill all the same. But unlike Perrin, Loial isn’t struggling with a fracture in his sense of identity or with the question of whether or not his actions were justified; Loial knows he only did what he had to, and he doesn’t seem to feel that the killing has marred him in some way. But he is able to hold space for grief, for regret that it was necessary, nonetheless. And I think that is very beautiful. Rather than to become numb to it, Loial chooses to believe that even necessary killing as a thing to be sad over, to mourn; it wouldn’t stop him from making the same choices again, but that doesn’t mean he has to like the choice.

I think we could all use a little more Loial in us. And a little more Perrin too, which is awesome because he’s up next week when we tackle Chapter 28. We’ll also get some Whitecloaks in Chapter 29, as well as good old Bayle Domon. The plot thickens, or, as Jordan would put it, there’s “A New Thread in the Pattern.” See you next week!

Sylas K Barrett thinks the Illuminators sound pretty sweet, and would love to see one of their shows.

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