Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: Many Worlds, One Fate in Robert Jordan’s The Great Hunt (Part 20)

Welcome to Week Twenty of my read of The Great Hunt. This post means that the installment for The Great Hunt is now as long as the one for The Eye of the World was, and we still have a lot left to cover! Somehow I get the feeling this is a trend that will only continue as the Read does.

There is a lot of really interesting world building in Chapters 36 and 37; we learn a little more about the Ogier and about the Machin Shin, and through Rand’s experience of the other worlds, we get to see a view of this one that neither he nor we have quite had yet. We also learn some more about what happens to a man who can channel, and that there are other effects besides just losing their mind. And it’s not pretty.

Everyone follows Juin through the Ogier town towards the biggest of the mounded homes, at the base of a Great Tree. Rand notices Loial’s increasing discomfort as they walk, and eventually suggests that Loial wait outside, Mat chiming in as Rand assures Juin that the Elders surely only want to talk to the humans. Loial nervously agrees and sits down beside the steps, hiding his face in a book.

Inside, they find the Ogier Elders sitting in a half circle on a dais, Verin in a chair facing them. Four women and three men, aged, white-haired, and dignified.

Hurin gaped at them openly, and Rand felt like staring himself. Not even Verin had the appearance of wisdom that was in the Elders’ huge eyes, nor Morgase in her crown their authority, nor Moiraine their calm serenity. Ingtar was the first to bow, as formally as Rand had ever seen from him, while the others still stood rooted.

The Eldest Ogier, seated in the center, introduces herself as Alar, and she tells them that Verin has explained their need. But they have not allowed anyone to travel the Ways in over one hundred years, and she wants to makes sure that they understand how traveling the Ways risks not only death and madness, but perhaps their very souls as well. Despite some of the humans’ protests that they understand the danger, she commands that another Ogier be brought before them.

The Ogier, Trayal, seems completely vacant. His eyes stare at nothing, his face holds no expression, and he responds slowly to being prodded into walking or to being stopped. Alar explains that Trayal was the last of their stedding to travel the Ways, and when she asks Verin to touch him, Verin is shocked to find that the Ogier is “empty.” Although Trayal’s body is alive, there is nothing at all inside.

“Nothing,” one of the Elders to Alar’s right said softly. Her eyes seemed to hold all the pain Trayal’s no longer could. “No mind. No soul. Nothing of Trayal remains but his body.”

“He was a fine Treesinger,” one of the men sighed.

Alar motioned, and the two women turned Trayal to lead him out; they had to move him before he began to walk.

Verin repeats to Alar and the other Elders that, despite the risks, they must follow the Horn of Valere, and Alar agrees to take them to the Waygate, although she remarks that she isn’t sure what is worse: that the Darkfriends have the Horn or that it was found at all. She asks about Loial, then, and Rand is quick to tell her that they need him to go with them, and that Loial wants to. Perrin chimes in that Loial is a friend, and Mat that Loial carries his own weight in the party. Even Ingtar asks if there is some reason Loial can’t come with them. And Verin points out that they need someone who can decipher the Guidings.

But Alar is more interested in Rand. She asks if Rand has drawn Loial into ta’maral’ailen, the Web the Pattern weaves around Rand because he is ta’veren. Rand doesn’t really answer, saying only that he just wants to find the Horn, and that Loial is his friend. Alar remarks that Loial is young by Ogier standards, that Rand is young too but ta’veren, and she commands that Rand look after Loial, and bring him home safely to Stedding Shangtai “when the weaving is done.” Rand says that he will, and it feels like swearing an oath.

She leads them to the Waygate, Ingtar sending Uno to fetch the other Shienarans as Loial falls in at the rear of the party, anxiously asking Rand if Alar said anything about him. Mat and Perrin reassure him, and when Rand asks about a flower Loial is holding, the Ogier admits that it was given to him by Erith. He quickly dismisses the matter after Rand worries that this means Loial doesn’t want to come after all, but he is also careful to preserve the blossom inside one of his books. As they walk, Mat and Perrin tease Loial and each other, the banter reminding Rand of being home.

They pass Ogier working in the trees and are joined by the rest of Ingtar’s party, and Rand doesn’t even feel that they’ve left the stedding until he realizes that they have reached the Waygate. Since there can be no channeling inside a stedding, he knows they must now be outside its bounds… and then he realizes that he no longer has that sense of something missing. Saidin is back.

There is a low stone wall around the Waygate, built, Alar says, to warn people away from the Waygate. She stays away from it, and Juin further still, but tells the others they may pass. The soldiers grip their swords and everyone takes a deep breath, as Verin proceeds to pull the Avendesora leaf from its place. But as the doors start to open, Rand can see that instead of the silvery effect of the Waygate entrance they should be seeing, the space between the doors shows only blackness.

He shouts for Verin to close it, that it’s the Black Wind, and she replaces the leaf quickly.

Alar let out a shuddering breath. “Machin Shin. So close.”

“It didn’t try to come out,” Rand said. Juin made a strangled sound. “I have told you,” Verin said, “the Black Wind is a creature of the Ways. It cannot leave them.” She sounded calm, but she still wiped her hands on her skirt.

Rand wants to argue but figures it is pointless, while Verin gives him a look as she muses over the fact that Machin Shin would be at both Waygates they have tried. Rand feels like she is suggesting that the Black Wind is following him. But in any case, as Alar points out, the Ways are no longer passable, and the party cannot use them.

But the need to go to Toman Head has not lessened, and the group, over Ingtar’s complaints at the time wasted, begins to brainstorm different ways to get there. They could try yet another stedding, but Verin is certain Machin Shin will be waiting there as well. Then Hurin remarks that what they really need is a Portal Stone, given how much more quickly they were able to cross the land there than in this world. Verin points out that they have no idea where to find a Portal Stone, unless Rand or Hurin or Loial can find the one in Kinslayer’s Dagger—Rand reluctantly says that he can, but Alar interrupts to say that, while she did not know that anyone was still able to use the Portal Stones, there is one nearby.

“The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills,” Verin observes, “and the Pattern provides what is needful.” She instructs Alar to take them there at once, as they have already lost too much time.

Everyone in the party seems more eager and relieved to be trying the Portal Stone instead of the Ways, even Hurin. Only Rand is hesitant, knowing that Verin almost certainly expects him to be the one who uses the Stone.

Alar takes them to the Stone, explaining that they turned it upright when they found it toppled over but did not move it—it was as though the Stone resisted being moved. To the Ogier it is like a monument to what was lost, and the knowledge that was forgotten. But Verin hopes that it will be more than that. She thanks Alar and says that they won’t keep her any longer, and Alar observes that although most of the events of the outside world—the False Dragons, the Hunt for the Horn—have passed the Ogier by, she does not think that this will be so with Tarmon Gai’don.

Alar leaves, and Ingtar falls into his usual refrain of questioning the path Verin is choosing, whether the Horn really is at Toman Head, and if he couldn’t still make Barthanes tell them the truth. Verin reminds him that he swore that he would ride to Shayol Ghul itself to find the Horn, and asks if he will balk at this, which puts Ingtar’s back up.

Verin, under the pretense of wanting to ask Rand about his recent experience being transported by a Portal Stone, asks him to come aside and look at it with her. Rand is relieved for a moment, thinking that Verin intends to use it herself, but she tells him that she would be killed before she ever came close to channeling enough of power to work the Stone. But she has enough knowledge from studying books in the White Tower to help him a little.

Rand replies that he doesn’t know anything except for the symbol Selene showed him for their world, which he doesn’t even see on this stone. Verin retorts that naturally it wouldn’t be there; the symbols aid in getting to a world. She remarks that she’d love to talk to Selene, or even better, get a copy of her book, given that no such tombs were believed to have survived the Breaking.

Verin explains that the symbols on the stones indicate the different worlds and the different stones within those worlds, and points out one particular symbol, two parallel wavy lines crossed by an odd squiggle, that she knows is the Portal Stone on Toman Head because she once visited it. She asks Rand if he ever plays dice.

With one finger she outlined a rectangle containing eight carvings that were much alike, a circle and an arrow, but in half the arrow was contained inside the circle, while in the others the point pierced the circle through. The arrows pointed left, right, up and down, and surrounding each circle was a different line of what Rand was sure was script, though in no language he knew, all curving lines that suddenly became jagged hooks, then flowed on again.

“At least,” Verin went on, “I know this much about them. Each stands for a world, the study of which led eventually to the making of the Ways. These are not all of the worlds studied, but the only ones for which I know the symbols. This is where gambling comes in. I don’t know what any of these worlds is like. It is believed there are worlds where a year is only a day here, and others where a day is a year here. There are supposed to be worlds where the very air would kill us at a breath, and worlds that barely have enough reality to hold together. I would not speculate on what might happen if we found ourselves in one of those. You must choose. As my father would have said, it’s time to roll the dice.”

Rand points out that he could kill everyone, and when Verin asks if he’s unwilling to take that risk for the sake of Mat and of the Horn, he counters asking why Verin is willing to take it. He tells her about how he can’t always touch saidin when he wants to, and even if he accomplishes it, what good would it do the Horn or Mat if he took them somewhere they couldn’t breathe. Verin tells him that he is the Dragon Reborn and that she doesn’t believe that the Pattern will let him die before it is done with him, and when Rand repeats that he won’t be a false Dragon, and Verin only answers that he is what he is, and gives Rand the choice of picking a symbol or letting Mat die.

Rand heard his teeth grinding and forced himself to unclench his jaw. The symbols could all have been exactly alike, for all they meant to him. The script could as well have been a chicken’s scratchings. At last he settled on one, with an arrow pointing left because it pointed toward Toman Head, an arrow that pierced the circle because it had broken free, as he wanted to. He wanted to laugh. Such small things on which to gamble all their lives.

Verin instructs everyone to gather close, and Rand summons the Void. The One Power comes when he calls, and he directs it to him to the symbol. He hears Verin say that something is happening, and the world flickers.

Rand finds himself in the farmhouse with Tam as the Trollocs burst through the door. They take Tam down, and as Rand leaps to help his father, a sword stabs through his chest. He hears a voice whispering inside his head: I have won again, Lews Therin.

The world flickers, and he hears Verin finish saying that something is wrong.

Rand marries Egwene, and they have children together, and Tam has grandchildren to play with before he dies. Rand suffers from dark moods and the sense that there should be something more to his life, as news of False Dragons and war comes to the Two Rivers, the news of Artur Hawkwing’s armies returning and destroying the White Tower and the Aes Sedai. Egwene becomes Wisdom, and her cures work amazingly on everyone but Rand, who suffers from sickness and whose darkest moods often coincide with terrible lightning storms, or wildfires. People whisper that Rand is crazy and dangerous. When Egwene dies his sickness gets worse, and his body begins to literally rot away.

Then news comes that Trollocs and Fades and other monsters have come out of the Blight, destroying the conquering armies. Rand goes to war alongside the men and many of the women of the Two Rivers, and dies by a Trolloc’s sword as a voice whispers: I have won again, Lews Therin.

The world flickers again, Verin’s voice continuing to say that something is not right, and then flickers back into another world. This time Egwene dies, and Rand leaves the Two Rivers, carrying a heron-marked sword from Tam. He wanders, eventually becoming employed amongst the Queen’s guard in Caemlyn, where he finds himself often staring at Elayne and feeling as though this isn’t the way things were meant to be. The rumors that he is mad aren’t enough to drive him out of the Queen’s employ, or even the wasting sickness that comes with it, because of the return of Hawkwing’s armies. Rand leads a company to fight them, all the way to the Mountains of Mist, only to be pushed back and back to Caemlyn. When Elayne, now Queen, refuses to leave Caemlyn, Rand cannot leave her. He uses the Power during the battle, but it is not enough, and when he dies he hears that voice: I have won again, Lews Therin.

The world flickers again, Rand struggling to hold on to the power, to the symbol, as Verin screams that something is wrong. The pattern continues, the world flickering into a hundred different lives, more, in which he lives and dies, is consumed by his power, claims to be the Dragon reborn, and countless other identities. And each time he dies and hears that voice in his head.

Then the contact with saidin suddenly vanishes and Rand falls to the ground, numb and only vaguely aware that there is stone under his cheek. He sees Verin struggling to get up, hears Uno throwing up. Everyone is down, their faces full of shock and pain and fear, and the horses are stiff-legged and trembling. Rand shakily asks what happened.

“A surge of the One Power.” The Aes Sedai tottered to her feet and pulled her cloak tight with a shiver. “It was as if we were being forced… pushed… It seemed to come out of nowhere. You must learn to control it. You must! That much of the Power could burn you to a cinder.”

“Verin, I… I lived… I was…” He realized the stone under him was rounded. The Portal Stone. Hastily, shakily, he pushed himself to his feet. “Verin, I lived and died, I don’t know how many times. Every time it was different, but it was me. It was me.”

“The Lines that join the Worlds That Might Be, laid by those who knew the Numbers of Chaos.” Verin shuddered; she seemed to be talking to herself. “I’ve never heard it, but there is no reason we would not be born in those worlds, yet the lives we lived would be different lives. Of course. Different lives for the different ways things might have happened.”

“Is that what happened? I… we… saw how our lives could have been?” I have won again, Lews Therin. No! I am Rand al’Thor!

Verin points out that the important thing is that they have arrived, but judging by the foliage it is now late autumn, and they have lost time in traveling rather than gaining it. She tells Rand that he must let her guide him; even if she cannot teach him, she can perhaps prevent him from overreaching. Then she goes to Ingtar, who starts up, insisting that he walks in the Light, and that he will find the Horn and pull down Shayol Ghul’s power. Verin soothes him and uses her Power on him, returning Ingtar to himself, although the memory of what happens still shadows his eyes. Verin makes the rounds, while Rand goes to Mat and then to Perrin. Panicked, Mat asks Rand if he knows that Mat would never betray him, while Perrin seems to have almost tried to claw out his own yellow eyes, leaving the red marks of his nails on his cheeks and forehead.

Rand explains to them that they have made it to Toman Head in their own world, and assures Mat that Fain and the dagger are still here, though he fears that Fain might have grown tired of waiting and gone to Emond’s Field or to hurt Egwene.

Verin comes to do her healing on Mat and Perrin as she informs everyone that it is time to get moving. She tries to put her hands on Rand but he refuses to let her, and insists that he doesn’t want any Aes Sedai’s help. They all mount up, and ride away from the Portal Stone, Rand desperately hoping that he is right, and Fain is somewhere ahead, waiting for him.

 

Like Rand, I’ve really enjoyed the little bits of camaraderie and banter between the boys and Loial; it was one of the things I was hoping to see when they all ended up traveling together. There are lots of little bits of character work in these exchanges that you can’t get when characters are facing big events and dire circumstances, like the way Mat can’t see past his own opinions to look at Erith through an Ogier’s eyes, or the way Perrin continually connects with Rand, knowing that they both have a dark secret that they fear. It was also interesting to see how Loial is viewed by his own people; the reader is used to thinking of him as young and brash for an Ogier, since he never hesitates to describe himself that way, but this is the first time I’ve considered him as young and vulnerable. Alar’s concern for him as a much older matriarchal figure had me considering Loial’s adventures in a new light—in early chapters, and especially in The Eye of the World, Loial seemed to be looking after and guiding Rand, due to his extensive knowledge and great size, but now the reader is reminded that he needs looking after, too. I am glad Rand takes that charge seriously. Also, his reaction to getting the flower from Erith was seriously adorable. As a guy who also really likes getting flowers, I definitely approve.

What happened to Trayal reminds me again how in the world of The Wheel of Time, souls are a concrete thing that are generally understood to be real in a more physically evident way than we can see in our own; even if what Verin sensed—or rather, didn’t sense—in Trayal was better labeled as consciousness or something like that, the existence of reincarnation proves the existence of a soul. And that makes Machin Shin even more frightening; as horrible as the kind of death the Black Wind’s voices promise sounds, the prospect of having one’s soul destroyed, no promise of either reincarnation or afterlife with the Creator, is even worse. It speaks to the courage of every person who stood before the Elders that they were still willing to take such a chance. And what would happen if Rand was caught by the Black Wind and his soul destroyed like that? Perhaps it wouldn’t matter, since the Dark One is planning to end the Dragon’s reincarnation cycle anyway, but Rand losing his soul and having there never be another Dragon seems even worse than the Dragon Reborn dying prematurely.

I was surprised that the return of his connection to saidin was so subtle that Rand didn’t even notice it at first. I wonder if it would always feel that way, or if in time he’ll be so aware of it that its presence or absence would be more in the front of his mind. I suppose visiting a stedding was probably good for him—for a short time, he wasn’t subjected to the taint, and its decay was paused. Also I found those two sentences (“Saidin was there. Waiting”) particularly chilling.

It was only on my second read through that I realized that Verin’s implicit suggestion that the Black Wind was following Rand could be true. My initial assumption was that Fain knew which Waygate was closest to the one at Barthanes’s and just had the two blocked off. He wants Rand to follow him, but he also wants to make sure he’s ready and prepared… he needs time for that, and he can’t crawl into Turak’s ear like the little Wormtongue he is with Rand and Ingtar right on his heels. I wonder if Fain has bothered to consider, or is even aware of, Mat’s need for the dagger. Probably not, and Mat’s predicament lends an urgency to Rand’s mission that Fain might not have counted on. Perhaps he expected that if Rand could not catch him, he would just ride to Toman Head the normal way, frustrated and worried, but not quite so desperate. Anyway, though obviously Verin knows more than I do, it seems impossible that Machin Shin would be able to track Rand while he’s in the outside world. The Ways are basically their own world, and have no connection to Randland other than the Waygates.

I knew Rand and company were in trouble as soon as I read the title of Chapter 37, and what Rand and everyone experienced through the Portal Stone appears to be exactly that “what might be.” I found this section incredibly useful from a world-building standpoint, we got to see some of the Seanchan’s intended end-game, as well as what it would be like for Rand to have refused to leave Emond’s Field. In addition to the unchecked wave of Shadowspawn that eventually overruns everything, proving (to me anyway, though maybe not yet to him) that Rand is the key to stopping the Dark One, we get to see what Rand’s future might look like unless by some miracle the taint can be removed or controlled. I found it very interesting that Rand’s descent into madness didn’t look much like Fain’s, or even Lews Therin’s. I wonder if this means that Rand has a lot of discipline and self-control that helps his insanity stay a little more in its own lane, so to speak, or if there’s another reason for the wasting nature of it. Speaking of wasting, I had no idea that the taint came with such horrible physical symptoms as well. It makes sense though, since the taint is a corruption over the force that creates the world (half of it anyway), that decay would occur in the part of the world that it touches. And while I haven’t had many thoughts about the up-coming TV show (mostly because I don’t feel like I know the world well enough yet) I kept imagining how effective the montage of these scenes would be.

In some ways, this also reminds me of Nynaeve’s trials through the ter’angreal. Rand is seeing the worlds of if, and in many ways that was what Nynaeve was being shown too. I suspect both of them might find that some of their experiences, some of the bits of information, are useful moving forward. Perhaps Rand will remember something he learned about the Seanchan, or about the Shadowspawn, that will help him win a victory in a decisive moment. Maybe he will remember something of his own heart, and make choices that bring him back to Egwene, or that help him figure out how to manage the madness of the taint.

But even more interesting is the question of what everyone else saw themselves do in their other lives. Lots of people seem to be feeling guilty, Mat, Ingtar… even Verin was surprised by some choices she made in another reality. Speaking of Ingtar, he is just getting more and more squirrely and out of control. I wonder if my assessment of him as a Darkfriend wasn’t a little off the mark, but close. Like maybe he was the one who let the Darkfriends into Fal Dara, but then regretted it after, and all of this has been an attempt to make it right. He says he “has to” find the Horn because it is his attempt to redeem himself and walk in the Light again. Certainly he must have been a Darkfriend in one of those other realities, given his passionate insistence that he walks in the Light.

Verin said that a surge of Power pushed them. It’s possible that Rand dragged them through all those realities because he didn’t know what he was doing, but it is also possible that Ba’alzamon had a hand in what happened. I keep wondering if the heron he branded into Rand’s palm might connect them in some way, allowing Ba’alzamon to reach out and affect Rand or steer his use of the Power. Maybe he was trying to frighten Rand and break his spirit by showing him so many realities in which the Darkness won. And I am still musing on his choice to refer to Rand as Lews Therin—I have to figure at this point that it’s just because it irks Rand so much to have the identity of the Dragon he knows most of, and who is the most hated. But perhaps Ba’alzamon, too, has a special fondness or hatred for Lews Therin Telamon, since it was through his actions and the resulting counter-strike that the rules of the game were altered quite a bit.

Can I just say, my first thought when Rand was looking for the symbol Selene showed him is that the Portal Stone is a little like the DHD in Stargate, which gave me a chuckle. I wonder if Selene really has the book Verin’s so interested in at all; more likely she just knows how the Portal Stones work because she was alive before the Breaking, during which plenty of people knew how to use them. You know, because she’s Lanfear. And why does the Portal Stone take you to worlds where humans can’t survive? I suppose in the Age of powerful channelers they may have had workarounds for that, either driven by the One Power or perhaps technological, because otherwise there would be no point. I tend to forget technology when I’m reading these books, and it’s good to remind myself that there were Ages of great technology as well as those of great “magic,” as it were.

The one thing that Verin hasn’t acknowledged, however, is that although they haven’t gained time in the grand scheme of things, the use of the Portal Stone has gained time for Mat. If they had ridden to Toman Head, time would have passed for them, whereas in this case, it appears that it hasn’t, which means Mat still has his few weeks despite the fact that it’s late autumn now. That’s not as good as getting to the Horn three months ago, but its a dang sight better than Mat being dead. I also appreciated how understanding Rand was in not holding Mat’s accidental confession of betrayal against him, even privately. Rand knows what he did in some of those other worlds, but it’s also pretty enlightened for him to understand that the Mat of another reality is not this Mat. I have trouble with those concepts and I’ve read a lot more science fiction than Rand has.

Also, if anyone is going to have themselves tested exactly as they were in one of the Portal Stone realities they saw, it’s Mat. Let’s hope he learned something today!

Next week we go back to join the girls for a while, and we get to see more of how life is going in the White Tower for Egwene, Nynaeve, Elayne, and Min, and then we get Chapter 39, the title of which does not foretell what I thought it would, and our heroines trust Liandrin way too easily. But they don’t have the knowledge that I do, so I tried not to grind my teeth too much!

Sylas K Barrett would definitely like to spend some time in a stedding. They probably don’t get wifi there, though.

citation

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