Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: A Variety of Villains in Robert Jordan’s The Great Hunt (Part 22)

Among the essential ingredients of any great fantasy series is the need for a varied assortment of interesting villains, and The Wheel of Time certainly doesn’t disappoint in that arena. Be it Myrddraal and Trollocs, powerful Darkfriends of a bygone Age, Padan Fain and his obsessive madness, the mysterious Seanchan, or Mr. Flame Eyes himself, Rand and his companions certainly aren’t lacking for a creative set of antagonists, and that’s not even getting into the complicated question of the Children of the Light.

This week in Reading the Wheel of Time, we get to spend time with several villains both petty and dangerous, and Egwene gets to learn about a kind of danger and suffering that isn’t quite the same as the fear of death at the hands of Darkfriends or Trollocs. We’re covering Chapters 40 and 41 this week, one of which is quite dense and full of information, and one of which is much quicker but features a nice return visit from Ba’alzamon and his pointed taunts.

Egwene exits through the open Waygate back into the world, so absorbed in watching her friends exit behind her that it takes her a few moments to notice the group of armored men watching them with surprised expressions. There are also women, two in dark gray dresses and silver collars, each with another woman standing just behind her, and two separate women with lightning bolts embroidered on their dresses. There is also a noblewoman on a palanquin carried by barechested men, with a tall crest of dark hair and two blue lacquered fingernails. Egwene turns to ask Liandrin if she knows who these people are, but the Aes Sedai ignores her, replacing the Avendesora leaf and stepping up to greet the lady on the palanquin.

The High Lady Suroth, as Liandrin names her, remarks that “this” must be done quickly, as there are patrols about, and neither she nor Liandrin would want to be found and given to the Seekers of Truth. Egwene asks Liandrin what Suroth is talking about, but the Aes Sedai merely places her hands on Egwene and Nynaeve’s shoulders and introduces them as “the two of whom you were told” and adds that there are two more, one of whom is the Daughter-heir of Andor. As Egwene watches, the two lone women and one soldier approach them, the women carrying some kind of silvery metal in their hands. With more urgency she once again asks Liandrin who they are and if they are there to help Rand and the others, but the man grabs Elayne and Min, and suddenly everything happens at once. There is yelling, and a gale whips up, and one of the women slaps some kind of collar around Egwene’s neck.

Egwene tugs at the thing around her neck, which is attached to a long chain connected to a bracelet on the woman’s wrist, but she can’t find any kind of seam or clasp on it. She punches the woman in the face, only to go down herself, as if under a heavy blow. When she can see again, she looks around to find everyone collecting themselves, some of the soldiers climbing to their feet, the one who had grabbed Min and Elayne standing over Min, bleeding from a knife wound to the hand. Nynaeve and Elayne are nowhere to be seen. Nynaeve’s horse and some of the soldiers are gone as well.

Egwene’s captor squats down beside her and explains that this is her first lesson. Egwene is now a damane, a Leashed One, and the other woman is a sul’dam, a Holder of the Leash. She tells Egwene that whatever a sul’dam feels, a damane feels doubly, even to the point of death, so Egwene must always protect her sul’dam. She introduces herself as Renna and asks Egwene’s name, but Egwene growls out that she is not what Renna says and tugs at the collar again, then tries to ask Liandrin why this is happening. But neither the soldiers nor the Aes Sedai are paying her any attention, and Renna remarks that the first lesson Egwene must learn is swift, exact obedience.

Suddenly Egwene’s skin is covered in a burning pain, one that continues to build as Renna calmly remarks that not all damane are allowed to keep their own names, but that she will allow it, if Egwene does not displease her too much. Right now, she adds, she is only mildly upset, and does Egwene really wish to keep on until she is angry?

Egwene manages to growl out her name, and the pain stops. To her horror, Renna praises her and pats her on the head, like a dog being trained by its master. Renna seems to sense her anger, and remarks that Egwene better keep her attack light, since she will feel it more than Renna. She also warns her not to channel, that she can never do that without express permission.

Just then lightning cuts through the sky, and that tells Egwene that Nynaeve and Elayne are still free, and gives her hope. Meanwhile, Suroth has left the palanquin and is talking with Liandrin.

“You were to bring me two,” Suroth said. “Instead, I have only one, while two run loose, one of them more powerful by far than I had been led to believe. She will attract every patrol of ours within two leagues.”

“I brought you three,” Liandrin said calmly. “If you cannot manage to hold them, perhaps our master should find another among you to serve him. You take fright at trifles. If patrols come, kill them.”

Lightning cuts through the sky, but neither woman notices as they continue to threaten each other. Suroth points out that she could still bring back two damane by collaring Liandrin. When Egwene senses Liandrin drawing on the One Power, Renna calls out a warning to the High Lady, but Suroth isn’t concerned. She tells Liandrin that their master would disapprove if she made a move against Suroth, and that Liandrin fears him more than being made a damane. Liandrin counters that Suroth fears him more than she fears being burned to a cinder by Liandrin. They both agree that at some point their master’s needs may change, and that the other one will perhaps be expendable.

In the distance, a tree bursts into flames. Suroth declares that this is growing tiresome and orders a soldier to recall the troops. Liandrin tells her sharply that she must also find Nynaeve, that Elayne isn’t important but both Nynaeve and Egwene must be taken overseas. Suroth replies snippily that she knows their orders as well as Liandrin, though she would give a good deal to know why they were necessary. Liandrin replies that she knows as much as she is allowed to know.

Still, Suroth decides that she will be of no use to their master if she is caught by the patrols, and that Nynaeve will be caught soon enough, since the Seanchan intend to take every woman from the land who can channel even slightly and remove them across the ocean, leashed and collared. She tells Liandrin that she is welcome to stay and search herself, and perhaps be caught and collared for her trouble. Before returning through the Waygate, Liandrin merely repeats that, if either Nynaeve or Egwene is allowed to remain, their master will have something to say to Suroth.

The soldiers who had been searching for Egwene and Nynaeve return, along with the other pair. When Egwene notices some of the horses are carrying bodies, she is relieved to see they are all those of Seanchan soldiers. Min tries to get up, but the man she cut drives his boot into her back, and asks Suroth’s permission to kill her. She waves her hand and the man lifts his sword, but Egwene cries out to beg the High Lady to spare her. Despite Renna sending her pain again Egwene continues to beg for Min’s life until it abruptly vanishes and Suroth comes to stand before Egwene.

She asks if, in exchange for Min’s life and the occasional visit, Egwene will work hard and learn what she is taught, and Egwene is willing to grovel and make the promise. Suroth orders Min to be put on a horse, and they all ride, the other woman with the empty collar looking angry at not having caught Nynaeve.

Renna tells Egwene that she was honored to be spoken to by the High Lady. If it had been for a different reason, Renna would have let Egwene wear a ribbon to mark the occasion, but since Egwene brought the attention on herself, Renna punishes her instead, making her feel as though she is being struck over and over with a switch. Min tries to interfere but Renna only points out that this can be a lesson to her, too. When the punishment is over, Egwene tells Min that it wasn’t her fault.

“It was your fault, Egwene,” Renna said. She sounded so patient, dealing so kindly with someone who was too dense to see the right, that Egwene wanted to scream. “When a damane is punished, it is always her fault, even if she does not know why. A damane must anticipate what her sul’dam wants. But this time, you do know why. Damane are like furniture, or tools, always there ready to be used, but never pushing themselves forward for attention. Especially not for the attention of one of the Blood.”

Egwene has to bite her lip to keep herself in check. She asks permission to ask a question, and Renna explains that not all sul’dam allow their damane to do so, or even to lift their eyes from the floor until commanded, but that she herself will allow it as long as Egwene is careful.

Egwene, not quite sure why she is suddenly thinking of her dreams of the man with the flaming eyes, asks who is the master of whom Liandrin and the High Lady both spoke. Renna answers that the affairs of the Blood are not any business of hers and certainly not of Egwene’s—the High Lady will tell Renna what she wishes her to know, and Renna will tell Egwene what she wishes her to know. For anything else, a damane must act as though she never saw or heard it: Renna stresses that this is for a damane‘s own safety, since damane do not need hands to write or a tongue to speak in order do what is required of them.

Egwene, chilled, asks how anyone could treat someone so horribly, and what diseased mind ever thought of such a thing.

Renna only smiled patiently. “How is it horrible? Could we allow anyone to run loose who can do what a damane can? Sometimes men are born who would be marath’damane if they were women— it is so here also, I have heard— and they must be killed, of course, but the women do not go mad. Better for them to become damane than make trouble contending for power. As for the mind that first thought of the a’dam, it was the mind of a woman who called herself Aes Sedai.”

Egwene knew incredulity must be painting her face, because Renna laughed openly.

“When Luthair Paendrag Mondwin, son of the Hawkwing, first faced the Armies of the Night, he found many among them who called themselves Aes Sedai. They contended for power among themselves and used the One Power on the fileld of battle. One such, a woman named Deain, who thought she could do better serving the Emperor—he was not Emperor then, of course— since he had no Aes Sedai in his armies, came to him with a device she had made, the first a’dam, fastened to the neck of one of her sisters. Though that woman did not want to serve Luthair, the a’dam required her to serve. Deain made more a’dam, the first sul’dam were found, and women captured who called themselves Aes Sedai discovered that they were in fact only marath’damane, Those Who Must Be Leashed. It is said that when she herself was leashed, Deain’s screams shook the Towers of Midnight, but of course she, too, was a marath’damane, and marath’damane cannot be allowed to run free. Perhaps you will be one of those who has the ability to make a’dam. If so, you will be pampered, you may rest assured.”

Egwene also learns that only women can be a sul’dam; if a man put on a bracelet, it would either be completely useless, or possibly kill both the man and the damane. The other sul’dam, the one meant to collar Nynaeve, tells her the Empress will make lords try on the bracelets to amuse the court, Renna adding that only the Empress can afford to risk her damane in such a way.

She decides to test Egwene, and asks her to try to make a distant tree explode by heating the sap. Egwene feels compelled to do as she’s told, feels a strong need to touch the One Power, but she doesn’t want to obey Renna, so she says that she can’t do it. Even the other sul’dam can tell she didn’t try, and Renna explains that, through the a’dam, she has an even greater sense of whether or not Egwene has tried to do anything with the One Power.

She tells Egwene that she must never lie to her or to any other sul’dam, even by a hair, and the painful switches return. Egwene tries to fight back, to kick Bela away, and finally reaches for saidar, but just as Renna said, she knows what Egwene is trying to do and increases the pain. When she releases saidar the additional pain stops, but the switches continue, and when Min tries to intervene, the other sul’dam has her damane inflict the same punishment on Min. When the pain ceases at last, Egwene collapses forward against Bella’s neck, and Renna calmly tells her that it is good that she has spirit, because it can be shaped and molded, and that she will be one of the best damane.

Egwene silently calls out for Nynaeve, somebody, to help her.

Some way away, Nynaeve crouches behind some bushes, not far from the leatherleaf tree she set ablaze in her fight against the soldiers and the strange chained women. She doesn’t entirely understand their relationship, but she’s aware that even though only one wears a collar, they are both chained. She’s also looking forward to telling Sheriam about the Aes Sedai who used the One Power to fight.

Nynaeve also used her channeling to fight, and even killed a soldier with a ball of fire. Her anger had fueled her fight against the soldiers and the woman who had tried to collar her, but now it is ebbing and being replaced with fear. And it’s the anger she needs to keep her contact with saidar.

She fumbles in an attempt to grasp it again when she hears a sound from behind a tree. Fortunately, it is only Elayne, and Nynaeve rides out to meet her, the two women sharing a hug. Elayne asks if Nynaeve knows who the men were, and tells her that two men were almost upon her, but despite the fact that they had her in their sights they turned and rode away at the sound of a horn. Nynaeve asks if she’s seen Egwene or Min, but Elayne only knows that she saw one of the women trying to put something around Egwene’s neck and that Min was knocked down after she stabbed the big man trying to grab Elayne. Elayne is distraught that she ran, leaving their friends, especially since Min is the only reason Elayne was able to escape, but Nynaeve points out that Elayne would not be able to help the other girls if she was captured or dead.

Nynaeve doesn’t know why Liandrin betrayed them, or why the kidnappers seemed particularly interested in her and Egwene, but she is determined to follow them. After having Elayne fix her hair, she declares that they will ride south to Falme after finding some local clothes.

“What are we going to do when we reach Falme?” Elayne asked as she settled on the mare’s rump.

“I won’t know that until we are there.” Nynaeve paused, letting the horse stand. “Are you sure you want to do this? It will be dangerous.”

“More dangerous than it is for Egwene and Min? They would come after us if our circumstances were reversed; I know they would. Are we going to stay here all day?” Elayne dug her heels in, and the mare started off.

Nynaeve turned the horse until the sun, still short of its noonday crest, shone at their backs. “We are going to have to be cautious. The Aes Sedai we know can recognize a woman who can channel just by being within arm’s length of her. These Aes Sedai may be able to pick us out of a crowd if they are looking for us, and we had better assume they are.”

They briefly wonder if Rand is really in danger or if Liandrin managed to lie about that somehow, but Nynaeve knows that she can’t worry about him now. They head off towards Falme.

Meanwhile, Rand, Ingtar, and their party are trudging, soaked to the bone, through rain that is just not quite cold enough to become snow. Rand and Mat ask Verin if she can do anything about the weather—Verin replies distractedly that she could, but using that much power would attract the notice of anyone in the area who could channel, and they don’t want to attract the notice of the Seanchan and their damane.

They learned of the Seanchan, their monsters, and their damane in a local village, filled with terror and half-deserted. The Seanchan made their mark—whatever they did to intimidate the people was so horrible no one would speak of it, and the remnants made Hurin throw up. No one of Rand’s party can understand why Fain would bring the Horn to this place, although Ingtar is sure that Fain means to steal it from the Dark One and use it for his own profit.

“The Father of Lies never lays simple plans,” Verin said. “It may be that he wants Fain to bring the Horn here for some reason known only in Shayol Ghul.”

“Monsters,” Mat snorted. His cheeks were sunken, now, his eyes hol- low. That he sounded healthy only made it worse. “They saw some Trollocs, or a Fade, if you ask me. Well, why not? If the Seanchan have Aes Sedai fighting for them, why not Fades and Trollocs?” He caught Verin staring at him and flinched. “Well, they are, on leashes or not. They can channel, and that makes them Aes Sedai.” He glanced at Rand and gave a ragged laugh. “That makes you Aes Sedai, the Light help us all.”

They find a deserted village, and take shelter in it. Verin starts a fire in the common room of an inn, and everyone comes in to warm themselves and discuss what to do next. Ingtar is convinced that they will never find Fain this way, despite Rand and Verin’s insistence that he is in Falme, and declares his intention to begin a methodical sweep until Hurin can locate Fain’s scent. He continues to state that he must find the Horn, drawing more objections from Hurin about how things happen as they happen, and Verin counters that they all ‘must,’ a jab clearly directed at Rand.

Reluctantly, Rand admits that Fain threatened Emond’s Field if he did not come, although he lies and says he doesn’t know why. Mat, Perrin, and Loial are sympathetic and worried, but it is pointed out that a few more days can’t really make much of a difference, and they generally agree that Hurin is the best way to find Fain. Ingtar is already making plans to dress some of his men as locals and send them out to find the trail, when Rand remarks, half to himself, that he can feel something pulling him towards Falme.

He saw Verin watching him, and added harshly, “Not that. It’s Fain I have to find. It has nothing to do with . . . that.”

Verin nodded. “The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, and we are all woven into the Pattern. Fain has been here weeks before us, perhaps months. A few more days will make little difference in whatever is going to happen.

“I’m going to get some sleep,” he muttered, picking up his saddlebags. “They can’t have carried off all the beds.”

He goes upstairs and finds a lumpy mattress, changes into dry clothes and tries to sleep despite the discomfort, chill, and his own worried thoughts. He turns over, and finds Ba’alzamon standing over the chair where Rand tossed his saddlebags, the Dragon’s banner unpacked and draped across his hands. He tells Rand that the threads are drawing close around him, trapping in him in his fate of madness and death. He asks if Rand will kill everyone he loves again before he dies.

Rand glanced at the door, but he made no move except to sit up on the side of the bed. What good to try running from the Dark One? His throat felt like sand. “I am not the Dragon, Father of Lies!” he said hoarsely.

The darkness behind Ba’alzamon roiled, and furnaces roared as Ba’alzamon laughed. “You honor me. And belittle yourself. I know you too well. I have faced you a thousand times. A thousand times a thousand. I know you to your miserable soul, Lews Therin Kinslayer.” He laughed again; Rand put a hand in front of his face against the heat of that fiery mouth.

Rand tells Ba’alzamon that he will die before he serves him, resulting in another rant about how Rand will die, and that the grave belongs to Ba’alzamon. He tells Rand he won’t be reborn this time, that the Wheel will be broken and the world remade in the image of the Shadow. Will Rand choose everlasting death or eternal life and power?

Rand’s response is to leap out of bed, the void forming and saidin coming to him almost without thought. He draws upon saidin, pouring more and more of it out at Ba’alzamon until Ba’alzamon cries out that Rand will destroy himself. Thoughts of Mat, and his need for the dagger, and the threat to the safety of Emond’s Field find their way to Rand through the void, and somehow Rand manages to let go of the One Power, falling to his knees.

Ba’alzamon tosses the banner to the floor and lays his hands on the back of the chair. He tells Rand again of all the times he has fought and failed, how the Wheel has held him a prisoner to his Fate Age after Age, and how only Ba’alzamon can save him from it. He alone can teach Rand how to channel. He alone can save Lews Therin from madness.

Through gritted teeth, Rand tells Ba’alzamon that his name is Rand al’Thor, but when he looks again, Ba’alzamon is gone, and the Dragon’s banner is in his saddlebags just where he left it. But on the back of the chair there are smoking marks, made in the impression of fingers.

 

So, given what the reader has seen of the Seanchan and their leashed women, it’s pretty easy to realize what is about to happen when Nynaeve and Egwene are presented to them. I think it was a mistake on Jordan’s part to have Egwene ask what is going on so many times; once is enough, and the repetition makes the moments before the fight read as taking longer than they really did. We don’t know what Nynaeve, Min, or Elayne was thinking in these moments, either, so it just has the effect of making it appear that there was a lot of time to see the surprise attack coming, and makes Egwene look kind of dense.

I really love the little showdown between Suroth and Liandrin. Two women who so clearly see themselves as superior to most everyone around them, at least one of whom literally believes the other woman should be enslaved, forced to work together by none other than the Big Evil™. The brazen way they mention their “master” and threaten each other was pretty dang amusing to me, despite Egwene’s situation. They are both clearly so sure of themselves that they’re not even being cautious; sure, Suroth has the rigid Seanchan class system that dictates that none of her servants will even try to figure out what she’s talking about, never mind tell anyone about it, and Liandrin is quite sure she’ll never see Egwene or any of the others again, but we the readers know that this hubris will return soon to bite them both on their Darkfriend behinds.

It’s the classic villain foible we’re encountering here. I loved the way each of them suggested that the other would eventually become disposable to the Dark One, given that I know it’s almost certain that they both will be. And this is one of the problems with becoming a Darkfriend out of a desire for power—and is there any other reason people serve the Dark One? It’s not yet clear in the text if people sell their soul, so to speak, for other reasons. Yet most of them, at least those higher up, are perfectly aware that only a choice few will be elevated in that way. Like the man who calls himself Bors thought, back in the Prologue, the higher-ups among the Darkfriends know that eventually they will be able to do without so many servants of the Dark One, and they all expect that they will be those who are favored. So you almost have to have a ridiculous amount of arrogance in order to choose to be a Darkfriend for reasons of power-lust.

I wonder if Liandrin is secretly hoping that Suroth won’t find Nynaeve, and that this will bring Ba’alzamon’s wrath down on her, but not Liandrin, who feels she has done what was expected of her. It seems a dangerous gamble to me; not only does it assume that Ba’alzamon would take time to mark the difference, it also assumes that she won’t get some of the blame for bringing Elayne and Min along. Their presence may be considered part of the reason Nynaeve escaped, and no doubt will help Nynaeve facilitate Egwene’s rescue. If things go south with the plan for the two girls, I think Ba’alzamon might not split hairs over whose fault it was, exactly.

Then again, she may have been genuinely afraid of ending up in one of those collars, despite her show of knowing Suroth wouldn’t dare. I can’t imagine how any Aes Sedai wouldn’t be. I’m afraid and I’m just a non-channeling reader on the other side of the page.

I get a great deal of pleasure watching Suroth and Liandrin sowing the seeds of their own failure here. It’s an especially welcome feeling in a chapter like this, with the horror of the damane and the absolutely disgusting way Renna talks about them. The classic villain flaws of arrogance and in-fighting are almost comforting, and as a reader, one can shake their head and reassure themselves that Suroth is greatly underestimating Nynaeve in this moment. She is going to regret calling her men back right when they were about to catch Elayne, and she is going to regret using Min as a bargaining tool to make Egwene behave. (Thank goodness for us that she decided to do that, though!)

The story of how the a’dam were made reinforces this theme for me; they were invented by a Darkfriend Aes Sedai and eventually led to her own downfall—a classic lesson for the evil and powerful: Don’t invent things that can be used against your own kind. Like a Chekhov’s gun of karma, it will eventually always be used against you.

Unsurprisingly, I have so many questions about how the damane/sul’dam relationship works. As near as I can guess, the a’dam must create some kind of link through—or possibly of—saidar. Given that Renna says that sul’dam must be found (i.e. there is something unique about being such a one, rather than it being a job any woman could have) and the fact that being linked to a channeler by the a’dam could potentially kill a man, this suggests to me that the sul’dam must be able to channel as well. Given the assertion that all damane must be leashed due to the threat of their power, I would venture to guess that sul’dam have only very faint abilities to channel. Thus they aren’t a threat, but their talent can be used to connect them to the damane and give them control over the a’dam. In this same way, perhaps the men who die, and kill the damane, are also channelers of very weak ability, perhaps so weak that they are not exposed to the taint enough to experience true madness.

The sul’dam being very weak channelers would also explain why there are so many more of them than there are of the damane. The Seanchan are having the same problem that the Aes Sedai are having: The ranks of powerful channelers are being thinned out due to the gentling/killing of male channelers. Perhaps that’s why the sul’dam who was supposed to collar Nynaeve was so angry.

Ugh, I don’t even like using the words sul’dam and damane. It feels wrong to type out a word that literally relegates a human person to the status of “useful animal” or “tool,” even if they are fictional. Back in Chapter 38, Elayne remarked that a farmer would be shunned if he treated his oxen the way the novices were treated by the Aes Sedai, but now we have a case in which Egwene is being literally treated like an animal to be trained by someone who has absolutely no problem with animal abuse. The Aes Sedai might have been trying to break their initiates in order to build them back up, but the sul’dam just want to break their damane and keep them that way.

This type of torture crops up in fantasy and science-fiction from time to time. What makes it particularly compelling, and horrible, is the way it leans into the truth of what slavery is—a complete removal of the slave’s personhood. In the case of the damane and sul’dam, we also see how ingrained the idea that damane and marath’damane are merely objects to be used is in Seanchan society. If you were to ask Renna why this is so, you know you would get an answer to the tune of “That is just the way it is.” There is no room in Seanchan society to question the reasons for, or the legitimacy of, the social order; indeed, such a strictly regimented one would have to be very ingrained in the minds of everyone, especially the lower class, and providing too many “reasons” for it would begin to give wiggle room to question things. Better to have everyone believe it as simple fact—the sky is blue, water is wet, the world is hierarchical, damane are furniture.

Ba’alzamon also offers certainty and fact, continuing to reiterate to Rand how many times they have fought and how many times Lews Therin has lost to him. It occurs to me to wonder if Ba’alzamon’s insistence that Lews Therin has always lost to him across the span of the Ages is true. Surely if that were the case, the Dark One would have won by now?  We know Lews Therin lost the last confrontation, what with the taint and the Breaking and everything, but I imagine that the score must be roughly equal, with the Dragon at the very least keeping the Darkness at bay for another cycle of rebirth. I wonder if Ba’alzamon keeps score differently, or if he’s just exaggerating to scare Rand.

I was curious what Ba’alzamon meant when Rand insisted that he would not serve him and he answered “You honor me.” What could he be talking about? Rand’s resistance? The title “Father of Lies?” It seems like one that has belonged to the Dark One for quite some time. I also thought it was interesting that he was so invested in Rand not burning himself out with saidin—he keeps claiming that the grave is his and that Rand will serve him alive or dead, but clearly alive is much better, and I’m curious as to why. Because dead men can’t channel, I suppose—a willing, living servant sworn to Ba’alzamon’s service versus just another ghost.

I’m a bit confused about the way people are treating Rand. Mat has a big mouth, but even he should know better than to speak so openly about Rand’s ability to channel, and Masema very pointedly avoids looking at him. Has everyone come to understand that Rand is a channeler? I had wondered if the Portal Stone incident might have raised some red flags, but it seems odd that everyone would have figured it out.

Ba’alzamon must realize that he needs to separate Rand from his friends, hence the plan to send Nynaeve and Egwene overseas. I’ve been wondering if there are other reasons for the Dark One’s plans for them, but he must understand how much Rand’s friends tie him to his path of defiance. This isn’t to say that Ba’alzamon can read Rand’s thoughts, but it was his need to help Mat and protect Emond’s Field that stopped Rand from burning himself out, not fear of death, and of course Ba’alzamon was in Rand’s head back in The Eye of the World, and so probably has a pretty good idea of how important Egwene is. How ironic if his plan to get rid of her actually brings her and Rand back together in a crucial moment, rather than leaving her far away in Tar Valon while Rand arrives in Falme. But just like Fain is an unexpected wrench in Ba’alzamon’s plans, so, too, will Nynaeve and Egwene be. Maybe Min and Elayne, as well.

Two more chapters next week, in which we get Nynaeve making plans and Min trying to keep Egwene’s spirits up while everything gets increasingly more horrible. I hope it doesn’t take them too long to get Egwene out of there; I can’t even think how they are going to manage it, but Nynaeve is going to be furious when she sees just what Egwene’s predicament is—and Nynaeve can accomplish anything when she is angry enough.

Sylas K Barrett had a wonderful holiday, and hopes you did too. Happy New Year!

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