Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: The Game of Gender in Robert Jordan’s The Great Hunt (Part 19)

Welcome back to Thom being a total badass and some questionable gender relations in this week’s Reading the Wheel of Time. I’m not going to lie, I’m a little annoyed with the way the ladies in this section have been handled by the narration, but there’s also a lot of great stuff in Chapters 34 and 35, and I have so many questions about the Seanchan and the Ogier. Also I love Thom.

Chapter 34 opens with Thom returning to The Bunch of Grapes, annoyed at having been kept at Barthanes’s party until dawn. In addition to taking the wrong lessons from the tales he told, they laughed at him. They also asked him questions about Rand, and Thom is worried that his answers had not been clever enough.

In his room, Thom finds that Dena has fallen asleep in her clothes waiting for him—or so he thinks, until he reaches to shake her shoulder and finds that she is actually dead, her throat slit and the far side of the bed soaked in her blood. Thom is struck with grief and horror, but manages to turn and fight the two men who suddenly burst from his armoires. He kills the first easily with a knife from his sleeve, but his bad leg makes him miss the second, hitting him in the shoulder rather than a more fatal place. Thom leaps at the man as he tries to escape, bringing him down and pinning him roughly, positioning another knife right over the man’s eye.

Under the threat, the killer tells Thom that he was sent by Barthanes for information, and offers Thom gold in exchange for what he knows about Rand; the assassin and his friend know that Rand and an Ogier visited Thom in his rooms. Bitter that Dena his died for this, Thom replies that Rand is nothing more than a shepherd, and ignores the man’s continued suggestion that they could make money together with what Thom knows. Instead, Thom tells him that he should have left Dena alone, then drives the knife home.

He’s tugging his blades out of bodies when Zena bangs into the room, too late to inform him that she  heard that two of Barthanes’s men were asking about him. She takes in the dead men and Dena on the bed, and tells Thom he needs to leave at once. Thom replies that he can’t leave yet, because he has another man to kill, but Zena informs him that Barthanes has already been killed, and was found torn to pieces in his own bedroom with his head stuck on a spike. With the fact that Thom was there last night and now the two dead men, she tells Thom that everyone will believe that he was responsible for Barthanes, and even seems to suspect it herself.

Thom gives her the money he made at the party and has begun packing when Zena suddenly recognizes one of the men, not as one of Barthanes’s, but as one of Galldrian’s. She immediately picks up on Thom’s thoughts of seeking revenge and tells him off, reminding him that Dena wouldn’t want him to die foolishly. Outside, they can see the first signs of a fire brewing—someone setting fire to the granaries, Thom surmises, though when he warns Zena she brushes it off, saying that she has survived riots before.

“You have a dangerous look in your eyes, Thom Merrilin. Imagine Dena sitting here, alive and hale. Think what she would say. Would she let you go off and get yourself killed to no purpose?”

“I’m only an old gleeman,” he said from the door. And Rand al’Thor is only a shepherd, but we both do what we must. “Who could I possibly be dangerous to?”

As he pulled the door to, hiding her, hiding Dena, a mirthless, wolfish grin came onto his face. His leg hurt, but he barely felt it as he hurried purposefully down the stairs and out of the inn.

Meanwhile, Padan Fain is riding alone on a hilltop overlooking Falme, having left the Trollocs and Darkfriends behind and taken the chest alone on an extra horse. When the Darkfriend to whom the horse belonged protested giving it up, Fain let the Trollocs eat her.

Considering the town down below him, he turns over in his mind the information he has gleaned about the Seanchan from the conquered people he encountered on Toman Head—by torturing them, apparently. A lot of what he learned from the men and women (and children) he immediately discarded as rumor and hysteria, but as he looks down at the strange creatures the Seanchan ride, he realizes that at least some of what he dismissed is actually true. And when he rides  into town, he finds himself unmolested by either locals or Seanchan soldiers.

He notes that while all seems peaceful and orderly, he can sense the tension just under the surface. And Fain always does well where men are tense and afraid.

He dismounts when he comes to a large house guarded by both soldiers and the three-eyed creatures, which is flying blue-bordered banners embroidered with a hawk clutching lightning bolts. The sight of the banner amuses Fain as he approaches an officer and forces himself to bow low, explaining that he has something that will interest their Great Lord, and that the Great Lord will want to see both it and Fain, personally.

When the guard notes that Fain is not a local and inquires if he has taken the oaths, Fain knows the right words to reply, “I obey, await, and will serve.”

Everyone he had questioned spoke of the oaths, though none had understood what they meant. If these people wanted oaths, he was prepared to swear anything. He had long since lost count of the oaths he had taken.

When the soldiers get a look at the ornate silver and gold chest, some of them are even moved to gasp aloud, and the officer remarks that it is a gift “fit for the Empress herself” and instructs Fain to follow him. Fain is searched, and notes that those guards entering with him leave their weapons outside. He forgets to pretend to be scared of the creatures, only noting the Seanchan’s surprise when it’s too late.

Fain forces himself to remain falsely humble while he kneels with his face to the floor as his gift is presented to the High Lord Turak. Eventually, when the guards and all the servants save one have left, Turak commands Fain to rise and to explain how he came by such a chest as this, given that he hardly looks like he could afford such a treasure. Fain explains that his shabbiness is what allowed him to bring the chest to Turak without being molested, and that it is a great treasure from the Age of Legends. Soon, he claims, he will be able to open it, and to present to Turak a treasure that will enable the High Lord to conquer all the lands, and that nothing will be able to stand against him.

He stops talking when Turak starts to run his long nails over the chest, and surprises Fain by knowing how to open it. Fain is furious to lose this part of his bargaining position, but manages to maintain outward composure, even when Turak reaches in and takes out both the Horn and the dagger. He asks, clearly already knowing himself, if Fain knows what it is, and Fain replies that it is the Horn of Valere.

They proceed into the other room, where Turak’s cabinet and chair reside, and servants bring a table and a stand for the Horn. When Turak sets the dagger beside the Horn, Fain can’t stop himself from reaching for it, and the servant who has remained with them catches his wrist.

“Unshaven dog! Know that the hand that touches the property of the High Lord unbidden is cut off.”

“It is mine,” Fain growled. Patience! So long.

Turak, lounging back in the chair, lifted one blue-lacquered fingernail, and Fain was pulled out of the way so the High Lord could view the Horn unobstructed.

“Yours?” Turak said. “Inside a chest you could not open? If you interest me sufficiently, I may give you the dagger. Even if it is from the Age of Legends, I have no interest in such as that. Before all else, you will answer me a question. Why have you brought the Horn of Valere to me?”

Fain pulls himself together and tells the High Lord a fake story about how he is a descendant of a family which served Artur Paendrag Tanreall, and did not abandon their oaths when he was “murdered by the witches of Tar Valon.” He insists that his family maintained their loyalty, despite suffering for it, and passed the chest down from generation to generation, awaiting the return of the Artur’s descendants, so that they could serve and advise them, as the family once had for the High King.

“…High Lord, except for its border, the banner that flies over this roof is the banner of Luthair, the son Artur Paendrag Tanreall sent with his armies across the ocean.” Fain dropped to his knees, giving a good imitation of being overwhelmed. “High Lord, I wish only to serve and advise the blood of the High King.”

Turak remarks that Fain seems to be the only person who knows of these things; some speak of it as rumors but no one seems to know the way Turak sees the knowledge in Fain’s eyes. He says he could almost suspect that Fain was a trap for him, but he can’t think that anyone would use the Horn of Valere in such a way. He knows that the Horn was said to be hidden in this land, and can’t believe that any lord possessing it wouldn’t use it against the Seanchan invasion.

Fain explains that the Horn was found by an ancestor who knew how to open the chest during the turmoil of Hawkwing’s death, but that ancestor failed to pass on the knowledge, so that his descendants knew what was inside but not how to retrieve it. They only knew they had to keep it safe until the High King’s blood returned.

“Almost could I believe you.”

“Believe, High Lord. Once you sound the Horn—”

“Do not ruin what convincing you have managed to do. I shall not sound the Horn of Valere. When I return to Seanchan, I shall present it to the Empress as the chiefest of my trophies. Perhaps the Empress will sound it herself.”

“But, High Lord,” Fain protested, “you must—” He found himself lying on his side, his head ringing. Only when his eyes cleared did he see the man with the pale braid rubbing his knuckles and realize what had happened.

“Some words,” the fellow said softly, “are never used to the High Lord.”

Fain decided how the man was going to die.

Turak remarks idly that he might just give Fain to the Empress, that it might amuse her to meet a man who claimed to have held true to the oaths when everyone else has failed to remember them. Fain tries to hide his elation at discovering that there is an Empress, which he hadn’t known about, and that he might have access not just to a lord but to a proper ruler who might want to wield the Horn herself, but Turak notes that he almost seems eager to be sent to her.

He goes on to explain to Fain that whoever blows the Horn is forever bound to it, and that for anyone else who tries afterwards it will only be an ordinary horn. Turak is twelfth in line for succession to the throne, and he knows that, although the Empress wants potential heirs to compete among themselves, she favors one of her daughters. Even if Turak were to use the Horn to conquer all the lands and lay them, along with all the Aes Sedai on domane leashes, at her feet, the Empress would believe that he meant to be more than just her heir. He tells Fain that the Empress has “Listeners” everywhere, and that those suspected can find themselves turned over to the “Seekers of Truth.” He alludes to their methods of extracting such truth, describing how even Lords and Ladies can be subject to it, and how someone like Fain would not be given such levels of care as the Seekers might give in their torture of the highborn. He is clearly trying to frighten Fain, who plays the part even as he thinks inwardly of how fertile the ground of such a system is for Fain’s skills.

Turak decides that he will keep Fain for a while, along with the other man who amuses him, even though Turak suspects that they both tell lies. He dismisses Fain, and the servant with the blond braid starts to pull Fain away, but Fain resists, bowing to Turak and informing him that he is being followed by Darkfriends who would claim the Horn. Turak remarks that there are few Darkfriends in Seanchan; most died at the hands of the Seekers for Truth. He thinks it might be amusing to meet a Darkfriend, and although Fain insist that they are dangerous, telling of the Trollocs and painting Rand as their lying, devious leader, Turak doesn’t seem the least troubled.

“Trollocs,” Turak mused. “There were no Trollocs in Seanchan. But the Armies of the Night had other allies. Other things. I have often wondered if a grolm could kill a Trolloc. I will have watch kept for your Trollocs and your Darkfriends, if they are not another lie. This land wearies me with boredom.” He sighed and inhaled the fumes from his cup.

Fain is at last pulled from the room, and hardly hears the lecture about disobeying the High Lord as he ponders how he will at last get his revenge on Rand al’Thor, and how the whole world will pay for what Rand did to him.

But Rand is still far away from Padan Fain and Falme as he and his companions travel through the lands outside of Cairhien on their way to Stedding Tsofu. Ingtar continues to both grumble that this is a wild goose chase and chafe at the fact that they are riding away from Toman Head. Still, he follows Verin’s orders to keep the company riding with speed.

Rand is resolute in his determination that he will perform this one duty of retrieving the Horn and the Dagger and then get away from the Aes Sedai again, while Perrin has lots of questions for Loial about how steddings work, asking if anything besides Trollocs would refuse to enter a stedding, and if wolves would enter it. Loial explains that only creatures of the Shadow are reluctant to enter a stedding, them and Aes Sedai, since one cannot channel the Power while inside one. Loial seems the most reluctant of any of them to travel to a stedding, while Mat just looks sick, despite Verin attempting to Heal him several times.

When they pass into the border of the stedding, Rand sees those riding in front of him shiver or start before he, too, steps over the invisible line and feels a chill pass through him, followed by the feeling of being refreshed. There also is the dull ache of something missing, though he doesn’t recognize it as the lack of connection to saidin. He notes Perrin’s look of recognition when it is his turn to enter the stedding.

Then a young female Ogier appears and Loial makes hasty introductions, though he leaves out the name of his own stedding.

For a moment the Ogier girl—Rand was sure she was no older than Loial—studied them, then smiled. “Be welcome to Stedding Tsofu.” Her voice was a lighter version of Loial’s, too; the softer rumble of a smaller bumblebee. “I am Erith, daughter of Iva daughter of Alar. Be welcome. We have had so few human visitors since the stonemasons left Cairhien, and now so many at once. Why, we even had some of the Traveling People, though, of course, they left when the… Oh, I talk too much. I will take you to the Elders. Only… ” She searched among them for the one in charge, and settled finally on Verin. “Aes Sedai, you have so many men with you, and armed. Could you please leave some of them Outside? Forgive me, but it is always unsettling to have very many armed humans in the stedding at once.”

“Of course, Erith,” Verin said. “Ingtar, will you see to it?”

Ingtar gave orders to Uno, and so it was that he and Hurin were the only Shienarans to follow Erith deeper into the stedding.

As they walk, Loial comments to Rand, Mat, and Perrin about how beautiful Erith is, and remarks that it feels good to be back in a stedding, not that he was in any danger of the Longing, that is.

Perrin asks what Loial means by “Longing.” The Ogier explains how, during the Breaking of the World, when the mountains and rivers and oceans were being moved, changed, or destroyed, and the Ogiers were separated from the steddings, unable to find them and wandering lost through the world, they felt the Longing come on them, a pining for their homes so powerful that many died from it.

Loial shook his head sadly. “More died than lived. When we finally began to find the stedding again, one at a time, in the years of the Covenant of the Ten Nations, it seemed we had defeated the Longing at last, but it had changed us, put seeds in us. Now, if an Ogier is Outside too long, the Longing comes again; he begins to weaken, and he dies if he does not return.”

Rand immediately asks if Loial needs to stay in Stedding Tsofu for a while, worried that the Ogier might get sick if he stays with them, but Loial promises that he will know when it comes, and that won’t be for some time. He knows one Ogier who spent ten years living among the Sea Folk and still came home safe and sound.

They encounter some other Ogier, singing as they work in the fields, and then come upon a huge tree that has them all gaping at its size. Mat remarks you could build fifty houses from one of those trees, offending Loial, who tells them that some of the largest were seedlings during the Age of Legends, and that the Ogier never cut down the Great Trees unless they die, which almost never happens. Mat makes a quick apology.

Rand continues to observe the Ogier they pass, noting how comfortable and at home with themselves and their surroundings they seem to be. He also notices that some of the women take a special interest in Loial, who studiously keeps his eyes ahead, although his twitching ears give away his agitation. They are approaching a sort of town square, centered around the stump of one of the Great Trees, when Erith announces that their other guests are approaching, and the party turns to see two Aiel women and a younger Aiel girl come around the side of the huge stump, women who Ingtar instantly identifies as maidens of the spear as he reaches to loosen his sword in its scabbard. The Aiel catch sight of them a moment later, the youngest woman shouting out “Shienarans!” She quickly sets down the bowl she is carrying and the three quickly tie brown cloths around their hair and cover their faces with black veils, leaving only their eyes showing.

They advance as Ingtar orders Verin and Erith to stand aside, as he and Hurin and Rand all draw their swords. Perin has his axe halfway out as well, but Mat loudly declares that, Aiel or not, he isn’t going to attack women. Erith, meanwhile, is begging them all not to, and Loial cries out “Remember the Pact!” Rand draws the void, finding it disturbingly empty without the presence of saidin.

Abruptly an Ogier strode in between the two groups, his narrow beard quivering. “What is the meaning of this? Put up your weapons.” He sounded scandalized. “For you”—his glare took in Ingtar and Hurin, Rand and Perrin, and did not spare Mat for all his empty hands—“there is some excuse, but for you–” He rounded on the Aiel women, who had stopped their advance. “Have you forgotten the Pact?”

The women uncovered their heads and faces so hastily that it seemed they were trying to pretend they had never been covered. The girl’s face was bright red, and the other women looked abashed. One of the older women, the one with the reddish hair, said, “Forgive us, Treebrother. We remember the Pact, and we would not have bared steel, but we are in the land of the Treekillers, where every hand is against us, and we saw armed men.” Her eyes were gray, Rand saw, like his own.

“You are in a stedding, Rhian,” the Ogier said gently. “Everyone is safe in the stedding, little sister. There is no fighting here, and no hand raised against another.” She nodded, ashamed, and the Ogier looked at Ingtar and the others.

They quickly sheathe their weapons, and the Ogier, Juin, asks Verin to accompany him to the Elders, who would like to know why an Aes Sedai would come to the stedding, and why she’s brought armed men and one of their own young people. Verin clearly wants to talk to the Aiel but she follows Juin anyway, leaving the others to study them. Rand notices that they are giving him, in particular, angry looks, and the youngest even mutters about how Rand is wearing a sword. Then they collect their bowl and leave again.

Ingtar remarks that he would never have thought that Maidens of the Spear would ever stop once they were veiled, and Erith assures them that the Aiel would never break the Pact once they were reminded about it, and explains that the Aiel have come for sung wood, which she is very proud about since Stedding Tsofu has two Treesingers. They are rare nowadays, though she has heard that they have a talented young Treesinger in Stedding Shangtai. Loial blushes but she doesn’t seem to notice, and Perrin mutters that he doesn’t believe that the Aiel are there for sung wood at all. He thinks they are looking for He Who Comes With the Dawn, and Mat adds that they’re looking for Rand.

Rand has to wait for an explanation until after Erith sees them settled into an Ogier house that’s clearly intended for guests, although everything is a little too big to be comfortable for humans. Rand demands to know why the Aiel would be looking for him, and Perrin and Mat tell him about meeting Urien. Mat’s reasoning is that, since Aiel never live outside the Waste and since Rand might be Aiel, he could very well be the person they are looking for. Rand protests, despite his memories of the words of the Amyrlin and Ingtar and Tam, and Mat apologizes under Perrin’s disapproving stare.

Despite the comfort of the stedding (Hurin remarks that he’s never smelled anywhere that hadn’t had any killing, except from accidents) Loial seems ill at ease, and Rand discovers that this is because he is worried that, as a young male acting in a rather un-Ogier fashion, the women of Stedding Tsofu will think that he needs a wife to settle him down. He explains to Rand and Mat that, amongst the Ogier, it is the woman and her mother who arrange the marriage with the prospective husband’s mother, and that the man himself has no say.

Half of our marriages take place between stedding; groups of young Ogier visit from stedding to stedding so they can see, and be seen. If they discover I’m Outside without permission, the Elders will almost certainly decide I need a wife to settle me down. Before I know it, they’ll have sent a message to Stedding Shangtai, to my mother, and she will come here and have me married before she washes off the dust of her journey. She’s always said I am too hasty and need a wife. I think she was looking when I left. Whatever wife she chooses for me… well, any wife at all won’t let me go back Outside until I have gray in my beard. Wives always say no man should be allowed Outside until he’s settled enough to control his temper.”

Mat scoffs and says that it isn’t that way for humans, but Rand isn’t so sure. He thinks of how Egwene had seemed to set her sights on him when they were young, how Egwene’s mother had then taken an interest in him and even taken Tam aside, while complaining that Tam had no wife to talk to, and even though Rand and Egwene never made any promises to each other, it seemed to be commonly accepted that they would be together. He remarks to Mat that he thinks they do things the same way.

Just then, Juin returns and asks them all to follow him to meet the Elders. Loial seems concerned, but Rand and Mat promise that they will make sure the Elders don’t stop Loial from coming with them. Which leaves only the Ways to worry about.

 

Thom Merrilin, you are so cool. I love him, even though I am very angry at Jordan for inventing a female character just so he could kill her so Thom has another dead person to motivate him back into Rand’s sphere. I mean honestly, you couldn’t come up with anything else? Thom was already missing the Game, not to mention he has a temper and a great deal of pride—surely we could have come up with a more creative way to rope him back into the plot rather than inventing a really cool girl who wants to be a gleeman and then immediately murdering her for plot. I understand that Cairhien is a dangerous place and all, but a fridge is still a fridge.

That being said, it has been nice to get a little more into Thom’s head, and it’s given me impetus to sit back and consider his character a bit more thoroughly. Back when he was telling Rand and Loial about Dena in Chapter 26, I was annoyed when he told them that being a gleeman was no job for a woman. It smacked of so much sexism, especially when she was so clear that she wants to see the world. But then I remembered that Thom was once a court bard himself, and having seen the way the bard at Barthanes’s party regarded the gleemen around him, I figured Thom’s dismissal of the gleeman’s life for Dena really is just because it’s not the one he wanted for himself. It really got to me that, upon realizing he has to leave Cairhien, Thom’s first impulse is to go back to Caemlyn—his home, and one he’s not safe in anymore, either. So while I still think he was wrong not to take Dena’s desire to see the world seriously, I know that in Thom’s mind being a bard is a much more desirable life. I imagine, too, that he was living vicariously though her, a bit, seeing her potential and the future she could have.

I giggled to myself at the comparison between Thom being “just” an old gleeman and Rand being “just” a shepherd. Thom, there is so much more to you than you let on. Perhaps it’s time you stop assuming that Rand is exactly what he appeared to be when you first met him in the Two Rivers. You should know as well as anyone that appearances aren’t everything, and that lords and ladies often aren’t the true nobility. Not to mention that you’re just assuming that Rand can’t be the channeler because you can’t conceive of why the Aes Sedai wouldn’t immediately gentle him. But you said yourself that the Aes Sedai invented the Great Game—you should know better than to assume you could ever know what they would do!

Okay, I get it, Fain is a very bad guy who kills people and feeds them to Trollocs and stuff. Honestly, how does he have any followers left at this point? Rand has killed a bunch of Fain’s Trollocs, and Fain has fed a bunch of Darkfriends to the Trollocs; granted, I don’t know how many he had in the group to start with, but those numbers have got to be seriously dwindling by now.

Anyway, I think Jordan hit the pinnacle of illustrating the monstrous-murder side of Fain when he compared the Darkfriends trying to explain their worth to him and the screams of the Trollocs murdering all the villagers. There was something poetic (in a horrible way) there that really conveyed how Fain’s mind works, and I think after that and the Fade, further descriptions of his murdering and torturing just feel like more of the same. We already know that he feeds any Darkfriends who don’t immediately obey him to the Trollocs, and we already know he let the Trollocs kill all the villagers they captured, including the children, so I didn’t really need to hear about more cookpots and more child torture. What does really creep me out in the narration is when Fain observes how he always does well “where men are tense and afraid” and how the more he learns about the suppressive cast system and the Truth Seekers and all the suspicion and danger of the Seanchan society, the more eager he is because this is the sort of thing he works with.

I wonder how much of Padan Fain is really left in this person. Fain’s sanity was pretty shredded when we saw him in Fal Dara in The Eye of the World, and it’s a little unclear how Mordeth’s possession works. Clearly this person has a sense of himself as Padan Fain, but in his goals, perspectives, and mannerisms he seems much more Mordeth than the once-peddler turned Darkfriend turned Ba’alzamon’s hound. I suspect some of his joy in terrorizing the Darkfriends might come from Fain’s own memories of being tortured and abused by the servants of the Dark One—there’s probably a perverse pleasure in seeing other people cooked up for the Trollocs’ dinner, considering that Fain spent some time being forced to sleep in a cookpot, to remind him of his place. But his motivations are all Mordeth.

He wants what Mordeth wants, to be the Grima Wormtounge whispering in a king or high lord’s ear, gaining power but not ruling. When we’re in his POV in Falme, everything he notices is focused on that one goal, and it’s interesting that he never considers using the Horn for himself. Surely he could find a way to get someone to open it for him, as he expected to need to do for Turak. (Also, it was really funny when he got angry that Turak knew how.) But Fain seems incapable of thinking outside the box of whatever the essence of Mordeth was. He wants to recreate exactly the life Mordeth had, using basically the same tactics. I wonder if he is even capable of wanting other things, of growth or change, or if he’s basically just two tormented souls running like old software, one reduced to a love of torture and need for revenge on Rand, one made up entirely of a drive to re-create the circumstances of Aridhol’s destruction.

How does Mordeth-Fain know all this stuff about Artur Hawkwing, anyway? I think that the fall of Aridhol pre-dates Hawkwing by quite a bit, so Mordeth would have been already trapped in Shadar Logoth. It seems unlikely that he would know much about what was going on in the outside world, and I can’t think of where he would have gotten this information once he was out in the world again. The Fain half certainly wouldn’t know it.

Fain might not be interested right now, but I am so curious about the damane. At first I thought maybe both the chained women and their handlers in the lightning-bolt dresses were channelers, but now I’m wondering if it’s just the damane themselves. The silver chains are probably some kind of Age of Legends artifact that gives the holder control over the channeler and their power.

Okay, I was definitely under the impression that the Horn could only be blown once. If it’s possible to use it all the time, what’s the big deal about the temptation to use it before the right moment? Lord Agelmar was tearing himself up over it; granted he might not have felt that he had the right to be the sole owner of the Horn, but he could still have used it to help the Aes Sedai and the forces of the Light and such. Is it possible that Turak knows more about the Horn even than Moiraine and the Amyrlin? He does seem to have a lot of knowledge about the Age of Legends. I guess the Seanchan have kept better track of these things than the people in the main part of the world. Perhaps because they maintained the unity that Hawkwing created, while the rest of the world fell apart and lost more of the information that remained after the Breaking? But if everyone knew you could use the Horn multiple times but also seal it to one person, that would be a great way to reduce the likelihood of Darkfriends being able to use it.

Turak’s name sounds like a Vulcan name to me, and I can’t help but imagine him with that haircut, even though that’s not how he’s described. Despite the very real threat he poses, there’s something almost comical about him, the way he strokes his fingernails over things and seems to be lazily half asleep all the time. The way he drawls out how boring the land is and the way he keeps people around just to amuse him doesn’t help either.

It’s very interesting to see the Seanchan culture in contrast to that of Cairhien; they have a lot of similarities in their strict class structures and rigid rules of propriety, but while the Seanchan seem to exploit those class differences even more—they have slavery, and the mostly-naked girls seem to be a regular part of society, etc.—they also seem to have a sense of loyalty that I don’t think many in Cairhien share. Turak’s loyalty to the Empress is a stark contrast to the rivalry of Barthanes and Galldrian, anyway.

And speaking of those two, I expect Galldrian had Barthanes murdered and Thom framed for it? Maybe? Since he clearly was trying to frame Barthanes for Dena’s murder, that makes sense. Fain can’t have done it because he was already at or near Toman Head, and it doesn’t really strike me as traditional Darkfriend style, unless there was a very specific goal to be achieved. But what?

And now Fain gets to hang out with Bayle Domon, apparently. Look out Captain! Seriously, I’m gonna be worried about him now.

Um, Perrin, did you forget that you and wolves have already been in a stedding before? That’s kind of how all the wolfbrother thing got serious, what with Hopper trying to protect you and you killing the Whitecloak who killed him. Seems odd that Jordan would make that mistake, but he was probably just trying to remind the reader of how steddings work, which is just as well because I’d rather forgotten and it hasn’t been as long for me as it would have been if I’d been reading the books as they came out. I actually wish we’d gotten a bit more information from Loial in this section; I’m very curious as to why the steddings prevent channeling, and how. Is it something deliberately made by the Ogier, or a natural effect of their presence? Why would a place and a people so intimately tied to nature and the world cause there to be a block between channels and the very thing that creates the world? And for that matter, what is it about the stedding‘s properties that creates such a connection between Ogier and stedding that the Longing could develop?

There are so many logistical questions I don’t even know where to start. It does make thematic sense that a place which doesn’t allow any violence or fighting would also stop people from being able to channel, since it is such a powerful physical advantage over non-channelers, including the Ogier themselves. Perhaps the creation of the steddings is somehow similar to some of the great objects from the Age of Legends, since we know there were items that were created to affect channelers in various ways. We also know that it is possible for channelers of the One Power to block or destroy the ability to channel in others, so perhaps there is a connection there.

We did get more information from Loial about the Longing, however, which is in some ways reminiscent of the Elves’ Sea Longing in The Lord of the Rings. It’s an interesting phenomenon because it allows these myth-like, non-human characters to exist in the world of The Wheel of Time and yet also be separated from it in a significant way. Many things from earlier days are fading and being lost, and the Longing makes the Ogier part of that loss, in a way. They can only be tourists in the larger world, just as Tolkien’s Elves knew they couldn’t call Middle Earth home forever.

I am also reminded of the Ents again, not just because of the Ogier relationship to trees and the sill of creating sung wood, but also because the loss of the steddings during the breaking reminded me a little of the loss of the Entwives. Indeed, the Ogier gender relations seems similar to that of Ents. Ent men were wild wanderers while Ent women preferred to stay in one place and raise organized gardens; and male Ogier seem to have a streak of wanderlust that their female counterparts feel they need to tame.

But the Ogier aren’t just Elves or Ents. They’re also hobbits! They live in giant hobbit holes and I am so in love with that.

Overall, this section has brought Jordan’s rather antiquated-feeling gender dynamics back to my attention again. It makes total sense to me that there might be one or even several cultures where men might be the face of authority while women are actually in charge through manipulation and sneakiness, but the fact that every culture we’ve learned about has had the same dynamic with just slightly different cultural trappings is getting a bit annoying. It remains to be seen if the Seanchan are like this, but the women of Shienar had a very similar attitude as the Ogier ladies, which is again very similar to the women of Emond’s Field. And the women of Cairhien… well, as far as we’ve seen they just play Daes Dae’mar through sex. Even Dena is guilty of this, thematically speaking. And the fact that the Aes Sedai are the greatest manipulators of all just reinforces this fact.

Given that men, in this Age at least, are responsible for the “original sin” of the world of The Wheel of Time, I sort of wish they were the ones with the reputation for being tricky and only being trusted to run things from behind the scenes. It’s interesting to see the subversion of the trope, but it isn’t really applied anywhere besides to the Dragon and society’s association of male channelers with the Dark One.

Loial’s crush on Erith is adorable, though. The narration, and Loial himself, remind us from time to time that he is young for an Ogier, but this is one of the most effective ways it has managed it so far. Also Mat forgetting to be encouraging was pretty funny.

Perhaps the Aiel will disrupt some of the standard gender-roles we keep seeing play out in The Wheel of Time. Granted, they don’t seem to have a male equivalent to “marrying the spear,” but I’m sure we’ll get to see more of their society before too long. And now I understand exactly what the phrase “black-veiled Aiel” means. It’s a neat little detail. But I do wonder who the Aiel women thought Rand was. Their reaction suggests that they might believe he is one of their own, but he clearly isn’t dressed or behaving like an Aiel and he’s with the Shienarans, with whom the Aiel clearly have a deal of enmity. Perhaps they think he is some kind of deserter? Do the Aiel have those? Or maybe they think he is someone else looking for He Who Comes With The Dawn?

Also, what is the deal with the Aiel referring to the countries outside the Waste as “the land of the Treekillers” and why do the Ogier call them “little sister”? It reminds me of the way the Green Man called Loial “little brother,” but that made sense to me because I assumed that their species were distantly related or something. How do the Aiel relate to the Ogier’s connection to trees; they live in the desert, after all.

So many questions, but the only way to answer them is to keep reading! Next week we tackle Chapters 36 and 37, and I can’t allude to what’s in them this week because I haven’t started them yet! But there’s gonna be some more Ogier, and some dangerous traveling. And Trollocs, probably. There’s almost always Trollocs.

See you in the comments!

Sylas K Barrett loves trees, and would very much like to visit a stedding, even if the chairs are too tall.

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