Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: The Hubris of the Seanchan in Robert Jordan’s The Great Hunt (Part 24)

It’s week 24 of my read of The Great Hunt, and so much happens in these two chapters (44 and 45) that I don’t know where to start. It’s fascinating to see all the strings being pulled together. Here Nynaeve and the girls are on their own rescue mission so close by to Rand and Ingtar and the rest, both brought to someplace they never thought they would be by rather remarkable circumstances, at odd times that just so happened to perfectly coincide. And meanwhile the Children of the Light are stumbling around, thinking they’re in charge of everything when really they have no idea what they’re actually on the edge of. Geofram Bornhald seems convinced that he’s going to die, though, so maybe he does have some inkling of what is truly at stake in Falme and on Toman Head.

The Wheel is certainly weaving this week.

Chapter 44 opens with Perrin, Hurin, and Mat scouting a village. They’re dressed in what local clothing they could scrounge from the abandoned village they’d been in before, but Perrin can see that they aren’t really being noticed as much as they are being studiously avoided. Half the village is preparing carts to leave, and like every other still-inhabited village they’ve seen, these people are being careful not to pay any attention to strangers, even those who are obviously not Seanchan. Mat is eager to get back to their horses and get out of there, but Hurin is transfixed by the blackened circle where, according to him, all the village council and their families were killed by the Seanchan about six or eight months ago. Despite the distraction, Hurin is still certain that Fain came through, and probably alone.

They hear a commotion in a distant part of the village and decide that it’s time to go, running back to where they’d tied their horses behind an abandoned house. As Perrin looks back over his shoulder, he sees that the new arrivals are not Seanchan but Whitecloaks, and they hurry out of the town. Perrin feel especially anxious as he remembers his last encounter with the Whitecloaks and the two men he killed.

Unable to tell if they’ve been followed, Perrin reaches out to the local wolves, who aren’t much interested in any two-legs who can’t talk to them, but reluctantly go down to check, enabling Perrin to tell the others that the Whitecloaks haven’t followed them. Mat asks how he could know that, but Perrin merely insists that he does. It’s agreed that they will try to follow Fain’s trail a few miles, since they don’t want to bring Ingtar and the rest of their force back to the village only to get into trouble with the Whitecloaks.

Meanwhile, Geofram Bornhald is peering up the streets of the village, having just seen a broad-shouldered man dash out of view, a man who reminded him of the young man he once met who claimed to be a blacksmith, although Bornhald can’t remember his name. Byar arrives to tell the Captain that the village is secure. Looking around, Bornhald is glad to see that the villagers have no interest in resisting him, and orders Byar to lock them up in the inn with food and water, and to make them think that there will be soldiers left to stand guard. He is confident that it will take the villagers two or three days to muster up the courage to break out and find there are no guards after all.

They have already faced some skirmishes with Seanchan forces, and although the Children had emerged victorious, Bornhald is aware that the Seanchan had not been expecting a fighting force so much more deadly than the terrified villagers. And even with their advantage of surprise, Bornhald was struck by the ferocity of the Seanchan forces, as well as by the fact that they apparently had Aes Sedai fighting for them.

Making a decision, Bornhald tells Byar that the other man will not be included when they engage the main Seanchan forces, but rather that he will watch from a distance and carry the information of what happens to Bornhald’s son. Bornhald feels certain of his own death, and in addition to charging Byar with this duty, he orders him to take information to Amador to be delivered to Pedron Niall, the Lord Captain Commander. Byar is to tell the Lord Captain Commander what they have learned about the Seanchan, and how the Aes Sedai have been seen going into battle for them.

That last was the most important of all. They had to know under the Dome of Truth that for all their vaunted oaths, Aes Sedai would march into battle. It gave him a sinking feeling, a world where Aes Sedai wielded the Power in battle; he was not sure that he would regret leaving it. But there was one more message he wanted carried to Amador. “And, Byar… tell Pedron Niall how we were used by the Questioners.”

“As you command, my Lord Captain,” Byar said, but Bornhald sighed at the expression on his face. The man did not understand. To Byar, orders were to be obeyed whether they came from the Lord Captain or the Questioners, whatever they were.

Bornhald suddenly remembers Perrin’s name, muttering it out loud, and Byar recognizes it as belong to “the Darkfriend.” But Bornhald is not so sure, although he can’t imagine that a man who seems to have wolves fighting for him could be anything else. He explains to Byar that he thought he saw Perrin in the village, but that the man, whether Perrin or another, is unaccounted for among the prisoners. Worried that he might carry notice to the Seanchan, Bornhald orders the legion to mount up and continue on, but he fails to notice the dark shape circling far over their heads.

While the rest of the company wait for Perrin, Mat, and Hurin to return, Rand is practicing his sword forms. He doesn’t want to think about anything, and Hurin and the others should have been back by now. Of all the party, only Verin seemed unconcerned either by the lateness of the scouting party or by the possibility of encountering the Seanchan; instead she is sitting by herself writing in the dirt with a stick and periodically erasing it.

Ingtar, sitting nearby Rand and sharping his sword, observes that Rand shouldn’t be bothering with Heron Waiting in the Rushes, since it leaves you completely open in battle. Rand answers that Lan told him it was useful to learn balance, but Ingtar’s point is that if Rand practices the move too often, it will become instinctual, and he will use it without thinking.

“… You will put your sword in the other man with that, if you’re quick, but not before he has his through your ribs. You are practically inviting him. I don’t think I could see a man face me so open and not put my sword in him, even knowing he might strike home at me if I did.”

Rand repeats that the form is only for balance, then promptly loses his and gives up, putting his sword back in its scabbard and pulling on his disguise cloak. He wishes that the others would return, and just then Uno lets them know that there are riders approaching. The scouting party arrives, eagerly telling them how they found the trail and followed it almost into Falme. They also warn Ingtar about the Whitecloaks, but the Shienaran decides that they will not bother the Children if the Children do not bother them, and hopes that the Seanchan might be distracted, making the attempt at the Horn easier.

Ingtar apologizes to Verin, since the Horn was in fact in Falme after all. But Verin only replies that the Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, especially with ta’veren involved, and that it has no doubt put them when and where they need to be. Now, however, they should make plans. Ingtar points out that the Seanchan don’t seem to care who comes or goes in Falme, and that he intends to take Hurin and a few others into town to follow Fain’s trail. Verin scrubs out a wheel she had drawn in the dirt and instead draws two connecting lines. When she confirms that Mat will go as well, since he can sense the dagger, she adds a third line. Rand says he will go also, as this is why he came; to help Mat find the dagger and Ingtar find the Horn. He keeps thoughts of Fain to himself as Verin adds a fourth line.

“And who else?” [Verin] said softly. She held the stick poised.

“Me,” Perrin said, a hair before Loial chimed in with, “I think I would like to go, too,” and Uno and the other Shienarans all began clamoring to join.

“Perrin spoke first,” Verin said, as if that settled it. She added a fifth line and drew a circle around all five. The hair on Rand’s neck stirred; it was the same wheel she had rubbed out in the first place. “Five ride forth,” she murmured.

Loial and Uno ask to be included, but Verin tells them that they are being silly. There is a limit to how many people can enter Falme before the Seanchan take notice, especially soldiers, and as there are no Ogier on Toman Head, Loial will also attract too much attention. She cannot go either, since the damane would be able to detect her use of the One Power. She adds that they could even detect a man, pointedly not looking at Rand in a way that makes him, Perrin, and Mat all uncomfortable.

Ingtar points out they have enough problems without adding things like men channeling, but says that he would like Verin there in case they encounter any problems. But Verin cuts him off, declaring that the five of them must go alone. She scrubs at the wheel she drew with her foot, partially obscuring it as she repeats “Five will ride forth.”

As Ingtar starts preparing everyone for the quest, Rand stares at the wheel and the one spoke that Verin wiped out with her foot, and feels unsettled by it. He sees Verin watching him, but she tells him that he is “letting fancies take him.” Verin can’t do anything if she isn’t there.

As the sun rises in Falme, Nynaeve, Min, and Elayne are in position for Nynaeve’s plan, set in different locations nearby to the damane houses. Privately, Nynaeve thinks of them as her army. She sees a sul’dam and damane exit the houses, yawning sleepily, and stretches, a silent signal to Min, who returns it with a signal of her own, tossing aside the plum she is eating and leaning back against a doorpost. The way clear in both directions, Nynaeve can see both Min and Elayne moving nervously. Nynaeve thinks that she will wallop both of them if they give the game away, but in truth she knows she could just as easily make the mistake that ruins the plan. Having told the other girls to run if anything goes wrong, she resolves again that she will somehow pull attention to herself so that Min and Elayne can escape. She doesn’t know what she will do next, but she won’t let them take her alive.

When the two women are between the bracket of Nynaeve, Elayne, and Min, Nynaeve recalls everything she made Min tell her about how the a’dam work and what the sul’dam do with them. She suspects that Min kept the worst of it from her, but what she told is enough to heat Nynaeve’s blood with the rage needed for her to access saidar. As soon as she draws upon the One Power it draws both the sul’dam and damane’s attention, but it’s too late for them to stop her as Nynaeve lashes out with a narrow whip made of saidar—with a snap of it, the collar falls open onto the cobblestones.

The sul’dam stared at the fallen collar as if at a poisonous snake. The damane put a shaking hand to her throat, but before the woman in the lightning-marked dress had time to move, the damane turned and punched her in the face; the sul’dam’s knees buckled, and she almost fell.

“Good for you!” Elayne shouted. She was already running forward, too, and so was Min.

The damane takes off running, Elayne calling after her that they won’t hurt her, but Nynaeve redirects Elayne’s attention to the task at hand, subduing the sul’dam and not being noticed. They stuff rags into her mouth and pull a sack down over her head, and despite the commotion, the local people seem to be sticking to their system of ignoring anything to do with the Seanchan, and are leaving the street rather than getting involved with anything to do with sul’dam and damane. Nynaeve had been counting on this, and she hopes that it will take a while for the witnesses’ whispers to make their way to the Seanchan.

They wrestle the woman down an alley and along to a small abandoned stable that they had scouted out earlier, Elayne reluctantly picking up the collar end of the a’dam only after Nynaeve snaps at her to do it. After Nynaeve removes the bracelet from the sul’dam‘s wrist, they pull the sack off her, undress her, and leave her tied up on the floor in her underthings. Nynaeve is the only one who can really wear the sul’dam‘s dress, so she puts it on and then puts the bracelet on her wrist, while Elayne is told to get into the clothes they had dyed to look like the damane‘s dresses. Elayne is reluctant, though, afraid of how the collar will feel while she is pretending to be a damane, and so, to ease both their minds, Nynaeve tries putting it onto their captive.

Neither Min nor the sul’dam expect the a’dam to work, but Nynaeve is instantly aware of how the other woman feels, physically. She tells her captive that she won’t hurt her if she answers their questions, but the woman only sneers contemptuously at Nynaeve—right up until Nynaeve imagines adding something to the sensations she can sense from the sul’dam, which immediately has the woman crying out and trying to get away, trying to raise her bound hands to ward something off.

Nynaeve gaped, and hastily rid herself of the extra feelings she had added. The sul’dam sagged, weeping.

“What… What did you… do to her?” Elayne asked faintly. Min only stared, her mouth hanging open.

Nynaeve answered gruffly. “The same thing Sheriam did to you when you threw a cup at Marith.” Light, but this is a filthy thing.

Elayne gulped loudly. “Oh.”

“But an a’dam isn’t supposed to work that way,” Min said. “They always claimed it won’t work on any woman who cannot channel.”

Nynaeve replies that she doesn’t care how it’s supposed to work, and then turns her attention back to the sul’dam. She explains that, if she doesn’t get her answers, she will make the woman feel “like I have had the hide off of you,” which, she is horrified to realize, the woman believes she can do. Nynaeve realizes that this is because the woman knows it is possible, that this is what the a’dam are for, and she has to take firm hold of herself to keep from clawing the bracelet off her wrist and to keep her expression severe. She finds out that the woman’s name is Seta, and realizes that she can never make Elayne wear the collar. Instead she decides that Seta will be their Leashed One, even as Seta offers gold for her freedom and expresses her terror at being seen wearing the collar. Nynaeve is unmoved.

“As far as I am concerned, you are worse than a murderer, worse than a Darkfriend. I can’t think of anything worse than you. The fact that I have to wear this thing on my wrist, to be the same as you for even an hour, sickens me. So if you think there is anything I’ll balk at doing to you, think again. You don’t want to be seen? Good. Neither do we. No one really looks at a damane, though. As long as you keep your head down the way a Leashed One is supposed to, no one will even notice you. But you had better do the best you can to make sure the rest of us aren’t noticed, either. If we are, you surely will be seen, and if that is not enough to hold you, I promise you I’ll make you curse the first kiss your mother ever gave your father. Do we understand each other?”

Seta swears her obedience, and after they dress her in their substitute damane clothes, Elayne makes a bundle of everything else so that she can pass as a peasant carrying something for a suldam and her damane. Elayne tries to joke, but they are all very aware of the danger they are about to step into.

“Where are you… we… going?” Seta said, quickly adding, “If I may ask?”

“Into the lions’ den,” Elayne told her.

“To dance with the Dark One,” Min said.

Nynaeve sighed and shook her head. “What they are trying to say is we are going where all the damane are kept, and we intend to free one of them.”

Seta was still gaping in astonishment when they hustled her out of the shed.

Meanwhile, on his ship, Bayle Domon’s crew waits nervously, afraid of being noticed by the Seanchan and unsure about their captain’s plans. But Domon keeps them in line; they will wait for the woman unless soldiers come right to the docks, and every man must look like he isn’t doing anything of importance while being ready to cut the lines at a moment’s notice.

As the sea breeze passes Domon and blows up into the town, Rand keeps his cloak closed tightly around himself; he hadn’t been able to find a villager’s coat that fit him, so he must keep the cloak covering the silver herons on his own coat, as well as the attention-calling heron-marked blade. He and his four companions enter Falme at paced intervals, and then join up again after leaving their mounts in the horse lots. Rand notes how little Ingtar looks like a lord in his peasant’s disguise, as well as the feverish look in the Shienaran’s eyes. For his own part, he struggles with whether or not to leave the Dragon Banner in his saddlebags—he brought it along to keep it away from Verin, but he’s not comfortable carrying it on him, so he leaves it with Red.

Despite how early it is and the fact that there are five of them, the group draws little attention as they wander up and down the streets of Falme, following Hurin’s nose. Ingtar grows impatient with the lack of direction, but since Fain has been all over Falme, and recently, it’s difficult for Hurin to pinpoint where the man might actually be. Eventually, however, they pass a large manor, fronted by soldiers and flying the banner of an eagle clutching lightning bolts in its claws. Rand and Hurin are shocked to see that the Seanchan have grolm under their control, but it is Mat who suddenly senses the dagger, and he nearly gives them away to the soldiers trying to turn back toward the front door. Ingtar isn’t very interested in Mat’s need for the dagger, but Rand reminds him that Fain is probably not far from the dagger or the Horn—if the dagger is in the manor, the Horn must be too. He suggests that they wait to see if Fain comes out and then go back to Verin to make a plan, but Ingtar does not intend to wait for Verin—he means to have the Horn today.

He drags them around back of the manor, through the alleys, until they come to the wall surrounding the manor’s back garden. He climbs up onto the wall, and, seeing only one guard on duty, orders them to count to fifty and then follow, dropping down on the other side before Rand can say anything.

“Where is the guard?” Rand whispered.

“Dead,” Ingtar said. “The man was overconfident. He never even tried to raise a cry. I hid his body under one of those bushes.”

Rand stared at him. The Seanchan was overconfident? The only thing that kept him from going back right then was Mat’s anguished murmurs. “We are almost there.” Ingtar sounded as if he were speaking to himself, too. “Almost there. Come.”

Ingtar has Mat take the lead, and they all creep into the house. They don’t run into anyone except one of the nearly-naked serving girls (who doesn’t spot them) as they make their way up a winding staircase and through a hallway, until at last they come into a room where Mat senses the dagger. Ingtar leaps through the doors ready to fight, but there is no one there, only more painted screens, a cabinet, and a single chair facing a small table. And on that table sits the Horn of Valere and the ruby-hilted dagger. Mat snatches up the dagger, while Ingtar goes to read the script on the Horn and breathes that he is saved. Meanwhile Perrin, Rand, and Hurin are more concerned with what comes next, and how to get out again without being caught.

As Hurin and Rand check on the soldiers through a front-facing window, Rand looks across the street into the garden of another house and sees various sul’dam and damane walking about. One leashed woman looks up and even though she is too far away for Rand to see her face clearly, somehow he knows that their eyes have met and that he recognizes her.

“What are you talking about?” Mat said. “Egwene is safe in Tar Valon. I wish I were.”

“She’s here,” Rand said. The two women were turning, walking toward one of the buildings on the far side of the joined gardens. “She is there, right across the street. Oh, Light, she’s wearing one of those collars!”

“Are you sure?” Perrin said. He came to peer from the window. “I don’t see her, Rand. And—and I could recognize her if I did, even at this distance.”

But Rand is sure, and starts desperately trying to figure out how he will get to Egwene when suddenly a voice interrupts him. It is Turak, who declares that he expected to find Fain in the room, rather than five strangers. Ever since Huan died, Turak has been suspicious of the man, and Fain has always wanted the dagger.

As he is talking, Turak is undressing, a servant stripping off his robe and another handing him a sword. He declares he will kill one or two of them for disturbing his morning and then the rest of them can tell him who they are and why they have come. When, at Turak’s word, a soldier steps forward to take the Horn, Mat slashes his hand with the dagger and the soldier jumps back with a curse. Suddenly, his hand begins to turn black, and the soldier screams as his body convulses and blackness and rot spread from the cut up and over his body until he finally dies, his body “black as putrid pitch and […] ready to burst at a touch.”

Everyone is horrified, including Mat and even Turak himself, but Ingtar takes the opportunity to attack, his cry of “Shinowa!” and “Follow me!” drawing Hurin after him. Perrin and Mat also enter the fray, the soldiers falling back especially from Mat’s deadly dagger.

Rand finds himself left alone, facing Turak, who remarks that he expected it to come down to the two of them, and that he is ready to see what is required to earn the heron on this side of the ocean. Rand realizes that Turak’s sword bears a heron as well, and Rand is facing a true blademaster. He wants to seek the void, knowing he’ll need every edge against such a foe, but is afraid of the temptation to use saidin, since any channeling will bring the attention of the damane.

They fight, but Rand can tell that Turak is only testing him, and the High Lord is clear about his disappointment. He asks where Rand found the blade, or if such a sword is truly awarded to those with no more skill than Rand. He tells Rand to prepare to die, and as he attacks in earnest, the void envelopes Rand. Suddenly he can recognize the forms that Turak uses, only slightly different than the ones Lan taught him, and he is one with everything, including the High Lord himself. He sees Turak’s annoyance change to surprise and then concentration, but even with the void Rand knows he is only barely managing to hold his own. He needs to end the fight, and he can’t use saidin.

Having only been defending, Rand suddenly changes to attacking, desperate to reach Turak with his blade, forcing the High Lord to defend himself. He switches moves abruptly, cutting under Turak’s guard, and the High Lord goes down, the sword falling from his hand. Rand knows it is over before he even looks to see that Turak is dead.

The void shook. He had faced Trollocs before, faced Shadowspawn. Never before had he confronted a human being with a sword except in practice or bluff. I just killed a man. The void shook, and saidin tried to fill him.

Desperately he clawed free, breathing hard as he looked around. He gave a start when he saw the two servants still kneeling beside the door. He had forgotten them, and now he did not know what to do about them. Neither man appeared armed, yet all they had to do was shout…

They never looked at him, or at each other. Instead, they stared silently at the High Lord’s body. They produced daggers from under their robes, and he tightened his grip on the sword, but each man placed the point to his own breast. “From birth to death,” they intoned in unison, “I serve the Blood.” And plunged the daggers into their own hearts. They folded forward almost peacefully, heads to the floor as if bowing deeply to their lord.

Rand stared at them in disbelief. Mad, he thought. Maybe I will go mad, but they already were.

Ingtar and the others return, and Mat informs Rand that when the other servants saw the fighting, they never tried to help the soldiers or raise the alarm, only fell to their knees and put their hands over their heads. Mat can’t fathom it, although Rand is just relieved that they didn’t all kill themselves.

“I would not count on them staying on their knees,” Ingtar said dryly. “We are leaving now, as fast as we can run.”

“You go,” Rand said. “Egwene—”

“You fool!” Ingtar snapped. “We have what we came for. The Horn of Valere. The hope of salvation. What can one girl count, even if you love her, alongside the Horn, and what it stands for?”

“The Dark One can have the Horn for all I care! What does finding the Horn count if I abandon Egwene to this? If I did that, the Horn couldn’t save me. The Creator couldn’t save me. I would damn myself.”

Ingtar stared at him, his face unreadable. “You mean that exactly, don’t you?”

Just then Hurin warns them that someone has come up to the front door, that the soldiers outside are stirring. The officer runs inside, and Ingtar orders them all to go. Mat snatches up the Horn before Ingtar can, and the Shienaran reminds Rand that he can’t save Egwene if he stays to be killed. They all race out of the house and back through the garden. As Rand follows the others over the wall, he promises himself that he will find a way back to save Egwene.

 

If I’m being perfectly honest, I’ve been so emotionally caught up by Egwene and the damane that it was hard for me to care much about what the boys were up to, even though it’s actually quite suspenseful too. I’m intrigued by how so much of the Seanchan brutality is alluded to rather than stated outright, such as the blackened circle that makes Hurin feel so sick. Instead, the suspense and fear around the Seanchan is built up through the way others react to them. The way all the local people studiously ignore not only the Seanchan but any strange person or circumstances illustrates just as well the terror they can rain down if they so choose—or perhaps better: I seem to remember complaining a few weeks back that yes, we know Fain likes to feed Darkfriends to the Trollocs, big deal. Even the methods of their Seekers of Truth—who sound very much like the Whitecloaks’ Questioners, by the by—are more alluded to than stated outright, while little details such as how the Empress chaining men to her damane to see if they both die as a form of entertainment offer us plenty of imaginative fodder to make up the difference. Indeed, the sul’dam and damane relationship is the one horror of Seanchan society that is fully explored in the narrative, and although it was invented by an Aes Sedai rather than a Seanchan citizen, you can see how the structure applies in other ways. I have no doubt at all that the extreme discipline within the ranks of Seanchan servants is created in a similar way, although probably less violence and pain is needed since your average lower-class Seanchan doesn’t have the kind of power that a marath’damane has. Still, the way that Renna instructed Egwene about her place, how a damane is like a useful tool rather than a person, fits with the way Turak’s two servants apparently saw their existence: They were there to serve him, and when he was no longer alive, there was no reason for them to be alive either. It’s very chilling.

I was actually worried that something similar might happen with Nynaeve’s plan to separate Seta from her damane. If the damane in question had been a Seanchan herself, or even just had been a captive for a long time, she might have exhibited a Stockholm Syndrome-like behavior towards her sul’dam, might have truly believed that she was meant to be a leashed tool who served only as her sul’dam commanded. Separated from that purpose, she could have killed herself as Turak’s servants did, or fought back at Nynaeve’s attempts to subdue Seta. I was also a little scared that she might be so afraid of being recaptured that she used her one moment of freedom to kill herself rather than return to being leashed. So that punch really was a relief.

Going back to the top of the chapter for a moment, I have a feeling that there are some bad things coming for Bornhald and his legion. They are on the edge of all these things that are happening, but they don’t know much even about the Seanchan and who they really are, never mind the truth about damane or how many Dragon Reborn shenanigans are happening just on their periphery. I suspect that when everything comes to a head, the Whitecloaks are going to get caught in the crossfire.

I mean, they don’t even realize that the Seanchan are spying on them right now. Someone needs to get Legolas to come shoot that thing out of the sky.

Truthfully, if the commenters hadn’t clarified for me, I still wouldn’t understand that the first Bornhald we met back in Baerlon was Geofram’s son, even now that he’s been mentioned. I do imagine, knowing what he was like in that one confrontation with Rand, that he’s not going to take the news Byar brings him with any kind of measured calm or thoughtfulness. Byar, meanwhile, is kind of reminding me of Ingtar back when we met in The Eye of the World; he’s being sent away from where he perceives both his duty and his honor to lie, and that feels poignant right now, given how close Ingtar seems to be to going off the rails.

In all the commotion of other bad guys and other prophecies, I’d forgotten that I was initially suspicious that Verin might be a Darkfriend. Since Ingtar has been behaving so suspiciously, I’ve started to suspect that he was in some way involved in the Dakrfriend attack on Fal Dara and the loss of the Horn, so most of my Darkfriend suspicions have been focused on him. Verin, meanwhile, has been functioning largely as an expository character, helping Rand figure out his powers, reminding the party that the Pattern is in charge of their destiny, and muttering occasionally about prophecies. Rand is still suspicious of her, but she’d largely blended into the background for me until this chapter, which in itself is deceptively simple.

I had initially remembered the “five will ride forth” quote as belonging to the “Blood calls blood” dark prophecy, and had to go back and look to remember that it was actually part of a quote that Vandene gave to Moiraine from the Prophecies of the Dragon “Five ride forth, and four return. Above the watchers shall he proclaim himself, bannered cross the sky in fire… ” Valdene believed that the “watchers” were meant to be the Watchers Over the Waves, which is a reference to the people of Toman Head. Verin seems to have a similar idea about the prophecies, and is actively working to shape their actions to fit. She knows that five will ride forth and four will return (which means someone is going to die) and ostensibly she knows that Rand will declare himself over Toman Head. I’m wondering if the the “bannered cross the sky” is poetic or literal, if only because Rand ended up in the sky at the end of the last book. Although I’m not sure if that was “real” either, in the strictest sense. It seemed more like a supernatural plane than the actual sky.

Verin literally treats the five who ride forth like spokes of a wheel, or perhaps the Wheel, which brought me back to my old question about how much free will there actually is in this universe. She prompts for a volunteer to bring the number from four to five, then stops Loial or anyone else from going into Falme with the others, so clearly she is actively working to make the prophecy come about. This is something we’ve seen in Aes Sedai before—it’s basically Moiraine raison d’être. So the Wheel might direct events and the Pattern might use ta’veren to drive people and circumstances where they need to be, but the future isn’t inevitable, even without the Dark One getting his hands on the Pattern.

It was pretty chilling when Rand saw that Verin had wiped out one of the spokes on her little wheel doodle. Someone isn’t making it back out of Falme.

I was so impressed when Nynaeve just cracked open the a’dam like that; it’s been built up as being so impossible that it felt like a truly stunning move, although I don’t know that a’dam are necessarily supposed to be irremovable once placed around a woman’s neck. I always like reading about Nynaeve using saidar, and I’m always struck by how the flower she pictures sits on a thorny branch. The choice represents how Nynaeve specifically feels about saidar and her identity as a channeler, but I think it’s a good reminder in general of the nature of the One Power and how it can be just as dangerous to those who wield it as to those it is wielded against. Nynaeve’s flower image is beautiful and potentially very dangerous, just like the Power itself.

Nynaeve’s extreme distaste at wearing the a’dam even as a disguise was a relief. Part of me had worried that the a’dam would have some kind of corrupting power over it’s wearer, like evil jewelry often does, or the way the Sarcophagus in Stargate SG-1 causes repeat users to become cruel and monomaniacal. But also, having been faced with narration detailing Egwene’s pain and suffering, it feels vindicating as a reader to have Nynaeve be as disgusted by the device and its purpose as we are, even outside of its use on her friend. It just goes to show that the monstrosities that regular people can be capable of are much more alarming than the taint of Evil.

I loved the speech she gave to Renna—it’s like if Steve Rogers were an angry, vindictive lady. Nynaeve has never struggled to articulate threats in a creative way, as we’ve seen when she’s threatened to feed Egwene or Elayne disgusting potions to make them stop being silly and lovesick, and “I’ll make you curse the first kiss your mother ever gave your father” is an absolutely sick threat. I really wanted to high-five her.

There is no longer any doubt in my mind that something is going on with Ingtar. The narration is being more generous with its hints, now, allowing Rand and others to observe when he says or does something out of character, and noting little details such as how his eyes “have a feverish intensity.” He’s being increasingly reckless too, although I was amused when Rand thought that Ingtar, not the Seanchan guard, was being overconfident. It’s not overconfidence, Rand. It’s desperation. Given how Ingtar’s acting, I think it’s just as well if he doesn’t get to hold the Horn: Finally Mat’s grabby impulses are serving a useful purpose.

And then comes the fight with Turak. I was never under the impression that this chapter’s title, Blademaster, referred to Rand, and as it seems late in the day to introduce a whole new important character, I kind of figured it was going to be Turak. This is a different kind of confrontation than Rand has seen before. It’s not a Darkfriend or Shadowspawn, or some kind of grand metaphysical struggle with Ba’alzamon. It’s just normal sword-on-sword conflict, but it’s what Lan has been training him for, and I was pleased to see what Rand can do with a sword and the Void and not involving saidin. Plus Turak was pretty yucky and I wasn’t sorry to see him go. It is interesting how much the way Rand thinks of saidin is changing. It’s already more normal, even rote, to him now. He considers it as a viable option in times of trouble, and although the taint is still a factor, it isn’t in his mind at every moment. Perrin is similar: Now that he’s speaking to the wolves, he’s becoming more accustomed to the idea of what he is, and more accepting, even if it still makes him nervous and needs to be hidden from his friends.

Rand also gets to parallel Perrin in this chapter, as he has to face the first time he’s killed a man. It’s a really nice touch.

And in the end, we see the downfall of the super-strict class and role hierarchy the Seanchan ascribe to. It reminds me of back in the beginning of the book, when Ingtar explains to Rand how the Shienarans view their duty.

“When we Shienarans ride, every man knows who is next in line if the man in command falls. A chain unbroken right down to the last man left, even if he’s nothing but a horseholder. That way, you see, even if he is the last man, he is not just a straggler running and trying to stay alive. He has the command, and duty calls him to do what must be done.”

The Seanchan have a strict code of duty too, but there is no room for advancement, adaptability, or change. Turak’s servants belonged to him so firmly that his death meant their death. The others had no place in the affairs of warriors or the Blood, so they removed themselves from the situation so far that they could not even think of helping those they served or calling for help. And this may be the way the Seanchan lords want it, but it’s going to allow Rand and his friends to escape. The consequences of that will be much father reaching than any Seanchan lord can yet fathom.

And speaking of those consequences, we’re going to run into them next week. Chapters 46 and 47 are the big ones where most of the climactic action happens, so we may get them both at once, or I may break the posts down into one per chapter, depending on how much I find I have to say. Until then, I leave you with a few random thoughts, and await your comments below. See you soon!

Thought 1: Wolves have have their own formal greetings! You give an image that is your name and your scent. It’s like the wolf version of kissing on both cheeks. I love it.

Thought 2: Rand keeps thinking that if an Aes Sedai isn’t right on top of him, she can’t be affecting anything. That’s pretty naive of him. Although I can understand the impulse to just ignore his identity in the hope that it won’t be true, there is no reason to think that just because an Aes Sedai let him out of her sight, she isn’t still trying to direct him. Also, I feel like his struggle with where to leave the Dragon Banner is a really fun physical representation of his inner struggle with accepting his identity.

Thought 3: Fain killed Huan, just like he said he would. I bet that was horrible.

Sylas K Barrett really likes herons, and in all honesty would probably enjoy wearing Rand’s black and silver coat. Maybe to a concert or something.

citation

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