Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: Despair and the Shadow in Robert Jordan’s The Great Hunt (Part 25)

In The Eye of the World, when Moiraine learned of Ba’alzamon’s plan to find the Eye of the World, she remarked that the Pattern had brought all the threads together, first to let them know of the threat to the Eye of the World, then to provide them a way to get to it in time. It was one of the first times I really understood what ta’veren meant in this world, as Moiraine explained how Rand, Mat, and Perrin could be shaping the Pattern around themselves, or the Pattern could be forcing them where they need to be.

However, compared to the nearing climax of The Great Hunt, the Pattern’s work in The Eye of the World doesn’t seem quite so impressive. Here in Chapter 46, not just multiple people but multiple units of people are being drawn together into a great conflict with little or no knowledge of the others. Nynaeve, Elayne, Egwene, and Min have no idea that Rand and company are in Falme, the Seanchan don’t know about either of them, and the Whitecloaks know very little other than that the Seanchan are invaders that must be faced. I actually feel a little bad for Captain Bornhald and his company; they are in so far over their heads and they don’t even know it. In a few chapters the Dragon Reborn is probably going to show up, and maybe Ba’alzamon too, and then there’s the issue of the damane to worry about. I really wonder what Verin is up to right now, how much she knows of the unfolding events, and what her motivations might be.

But first, let us recap Chapter 46: To Come Out of the Shadow.

Nynaeve and Elayne follow Min to the damane houses, leading Seta on the a’dam. They notice nervousness in the crowd and the commotion at Turak’s mansion, unaware of Rand and the others’ presence. Elayne wonders what all the commotion is about, and Nynaeve answers that it does not concern them (“You hope,” Min adds). They enter the house where Egwene is being kept, drawing no notice: “Just another Leash Holder with a Leashed One, and a local girl hurrying along behind with a bundle belonging to the sul’dam.

With enough space between them that no one will be able to see that they’re together, Min leads them carefully up through the house until they finally enter a small room. They find Egwene there, sitting at the table and resting her head on her folded arms. Her eyes widen as she realizes who they are, and she gives a little giggle.

“I know I’m not dreaming,” she said in a quivering voice, “because if I was dreaming, you’d be Rand and Galad on tall stallions. I have been dreaming. I thought Rand was here. I couldn’t see him, but I thought…” Her voice trailed off.

Min asks dryly if Egwene would rather wait for the boys, but Egwene is quick to answer that they are all the most beautiful thing she has ever seen. She’s shocked when she recognizes Seta, then observes coldly that she would like to put her into a pot of boiling water. Elayne is shocked, but Egwene tells her that she does not understand what wearing a collar is like, that Seta once made her feel that pain, and that she can never decide if Renna or Seta is worse. Nynaeve, feeling Seta’s abject terror through the a’dam, says that she thinks she understands.

Nynaeve removes the collar from Egwene’s neck and instructs her to put on Nynaeve’s dress, which Elayne has been carrying. They will walk out of here without Egwene ever being noticed, although Nynaeve doesn’t know why she’s still here, since no one had control of her bracelet.

As Min and Elayne hurriedly helped her change into Nynaeve’s old dress, Egwene explained about moving the bracelet from where a sul’dam left it, and how channeling made her sick unless a sul’dam wore the bracelet. Just that morning she had discovered how the collar could be opened without the Power—and found that touching the catch with the intention of opening it made her hand knot into uselessness. She could touch it as much as she wanted so long as she did not think of undoing the catch; the merest hint of that, though, and…

Nynaeve felt sick herself. The bracelet on her wrist made her sick. It was too horrible. She wanted it off her wrist before she learned more about a’dam, before she perhaps learned something that would make her feel soiled forever for having worn it.

She takes the bracelet off and hangs it on the peg, threatening Seta again not to cry out. But Egwene is certain that Seta wont call for help as long as she wears the a’dam, and tells Seta that she better hope that whoever finds her will remove the collar and keep her secret. Because Egwene has had a theory, one which Seta being controlled by the a’dam proves.

“Nynaeve, a’dam only work on women who can channel. Don’t you see? Sul’dam can channel the same as damane.” Seta groaned through her teeth, shaking her head in violent denial. “A sul’dam would die before admitting she could channel, even if she knew, and they never train the ability, so they cannot do anything with it, but they can channel.”

“I told you,” Min said. “That collar shouldn’t have worked on her.” She was doing up the last buttons down Egwene’s back. “Any woman who couldn’t channel would be able to beat you silly while you tried to control her with it.”

Egwene tells them that while yes, the Seanchan leash any woman channeler they can find, that only means women who were born with the spark, woman who were ready to channel whether they were taught to or not. But not just any woman can wear the bracelet. Renna told her that it is a feastday in Seanchan when they come to test young girls. Those who are perceived as channelers become damane, but other girls are allowed to try on the bracelet to see if they can use the a’dam. Those girls are taken away to become sul’dam, and, Egwene adds, are girls who could be trained to channel.

Just then they are interrupted by the arrival of Renna, who complains that she never gave permission for another sul’dam to wear the bracelet of her “pet Tuli.” It takes her a moment to see what is really going on, to catch that Egwene is no longer wearing her damane dress or the a’dam, giving Egwene the opportunity she needs to snatch up the water pitcher and smash it into Renna’s stomach. Then she snaps the collar around Renna’s neck, the bracelet onto her own wrist, and presses Renna down on the floor, her hands muffling the sounds of Renna’s screams as Egwene repays some of what she has suffered at her sul’dam’s hands.

“Stop it, Egwene!” Nynaeve grabbed Egwene’s shoulders, pulling her off of the other woman. “Egwene, stop it! That isn’t what you want!” Renna lay gray-faced and panting, staring wildly at the ceiling.

Suddenly Egwene threw herself against Nynaeve, sobbing raggedly at her breast. “She hurt me, Nynaeve. She hurt me. They all did. They hurt me, and hurt me, until I did what they wanted. I hate them. I hate them for hurting me, and I hate them because I couldn’t stop them from making me do what they wanted.”

“I know,” Nynaeve said gently. She smoothed Egwene’s hair. “It is all right to hate them, Egwene. It is. They deserve it. But it isn’t all right to let them make you like they are.”

Seta’s hands were pressed to her face. Renna touched the collar at her throat disbelievingly, with a shaking hand.

Egwene composes herself quickly, saying that she is not like them but that she wishes she could kill them. Elayne and Min agree, Elayne adding that she is sure that Rand would kill someone who did such a thing. Nynaeve answers that she’s sure he would, but that men often mistake revenge and killing for justice. Thinking of her time in the Women’s Circle in Emond’s Field, she tells the two sul’dam—or rather, former sul’dam, that she is going to leave them there in that room, and that if they are very quiet, they might be able to avoid being found until they can work out a way to get the a’dam off each other. She suggests that it is possible that they have done enough good in their lives to off-set the bad, that they will be “allowed” to remove them. If not, eventually the other sul’dam will find them.

“And I think whoever finds you will ask a great many questions before they remove those collars. I think perhaps you will learn at first hand the life you have given to other women. That is justice,” she added, to the others.

In the face of Renna’s mute horror and Seta’s sobbing, Nynaeve has to harden her heart and repeat to herself that it is justice. Then she takes the others from the room.

They have no trouble leaving the house again, and once out in the streets, Egwene points out that they will need to get horses, adding that she knows the stables where Bela is, but isn’t sure if they can reach it. Nynaeve answers that Bela must be left behind, as they are leaving by ship, but Min’s focus is elsewhere. The streets are empty… except for a formation of soldiers coming up the street towards them from the harbor. There are more behind them, Min realizes, and although Nynaeve is (at least outwardly) confident that the soldiers have nothing to do with them, all four of them are nervous and asking questions of each other. Abruptly, Egwene declares that she will not go back, that she’ll die first, and that she is going to show them what they taught her.

Nynaeve shouts for her to stop, but it’s too late, and Egwene explodes the ground beneath the foremost Seanchan soldiers on either side. Dirt rains down on the women as the surviving soldiers scatter for cover. Nynaeve shouts at Egwene for a fool; they have no chance of passing unnoticed now, and can only hope to somehow get around the soldiers through the side streets. Just then a ball of fire is hurled at them from streets away, and they have to leap in every direction to avoid it. When Nynaeve is able to scramble to her feet and look around, she can only see Elayne in an opposite alley; Elayne gestures to show that Min and Egwene went further down the street.

Nynaeve is trying to edge around the side of the building when another fireball nearly takes off her head. Her anger at being shot at finally surfaces, and lightning crashes down towards the spot where the fireballs seem to be coming from. She prays they will all still have a chance to reach Domon’s ship, and that the captain will still be there waiting for them.

On his ship, Domon watches the lightning and fireballs explode, one landing on a rooftop near the docks and sending the last Seanchan still around running. One of his crew raises an axe to cut the mooring lines, but Domon grabs it, and the man’s throat, and repeats his orders. Yarin shouts that the damane will kill them all, that their only chance is to escape now while they are fighting each other and to busy to notice, but Domon has given his word. He silently urges his would-be passengers to hurry.

Bornhald is less concerned by the lightning, dismissing it as a storm that is as likely to hinder the Seanchan as himself. He and his men stand mounted on a wide plain, the banner of the Children of the Light flying in the wind. He orders Byar to go, has to repeat himself twice before Byar, his reluctance visible in every line of him, finally goes.

Bornhald put Byar out of his mind. He had done what he could, there.

He raised his voice. “The legion will advance at a walk!”

With a creak of saddles the long line of white-cloaked men moved slowly toward Falme.

Rand and company are also cowering in an alley by some stables, the cuts he sustained from Turak stinging painfully as he stares at the stabbing lightning and wonders what is happening. He’s also watching a Seanchan patrol, and down at the other end of the alley Mat, Perrin, and Hurin are watching another. They aren’t far from where they left their horses, if they can only get to them.

“She’s in trouble,” Rand muttered. Egwene. There was an odd feeling in his head, as if pieces of his life were in danger. Egwene was one piece, one thread of the cord that made his life, but there were others, and he could feel them threatened. Down there, in Falme. And if any of those threads was destroyed, his life would never be complete, the way it was meant to be. He did not understand it, but the feeling was sure and certain.

Ingtar inadvertently drags Rand from his thoughts by observing that one man could hold back fifty at the narrow passage of the alleyway, and that it wouldn’t be a bad way to die. Rand tells him that there is no need for such talk yet, but Ingtar ignores him.

“I never knew what he was going to do,” Ingtar said softly, as if talking to himself. He had his sword out, testing the edge with his thumb. “A pale little man you didn’t seem to really notice even when you were looking at him. Take him inside Fal Dara, I was told, inside the fortress. I did not want to, but I had to do it. You understand? I had to. I never knew what he intended until he shot that arrow. I still don’t know if it was meant for the Amyrlin, or for you.”

Rand felt a chill. He stared at Ingtar. “What are you saying?” he whispered.

Studying his blade, Ingtar did not seem to hear. “Humankind is being swept away everywhere. Nations fail and vanish. Darkfriends are everywhere, and none of these southlanders seem to notice or care. We fight to hold the Borderlands, to keep them safe in their houses, and every year, despite all we can do, the Blight advances. And these southlanders think Trollocs are myths, and Myrddraal a gleeman’s tale.” He frowned and shook his head. “It seemed the only way. We would be destroyed for nothing, defending people who do not even know, or care. It seemed logical. Why should we be destroyed for them, when we could make our own peace? Better the Shadow, I thought, than useless oblivion, like Caralain, or Hardan, or… It seemed so logical, then.”

He tells Rand that he is a better man than Ingtar. “Let who sounds me think not of glory, but only salvation,” the Horn’s inscription reads, and Ingtar insists that it was his own salvation he was thinking of. He wanted to use the Horn and summon the army to ride against Shayol Ghul, hoping that this would be enough to free himself from his fealty to the Dark One.

“…No man can walk so long in the Shadow that he cannot come again to the Light. That is what they say. Surely that would have been enough to wash away what I have been, and done.”

“Oh, Light, Ingtar.” Rand released his hold on the other man and sagged back against the stable wall. “I think… I think wanting to is enough. I think all you have to do is stop being… one of them.” Ingtar flinched as if Rand had said it out loud. Darkfriend.

Ingtar admits that in the lives he saw when they traveled by the Portal Stone, he was never able to escape the Dark One. Sometimes he found the Horn, sometimes he didn’t, but always there was another task being asked of him, each one worse than the last, and he could never untangle himself. Meanwhile Rand was willing to give up the Horn to save a friend.

He tells Rand that there is always a price, and that perhaps Ingtar can pay it here. He cuts Rand off when Rand tries to interrupt, telling him that every man has a right to decide when to Sheathe the Sword. Even someone like him. Just then Hurin comes up to let them know that on the other side of the alley, the patrol has moved away and that they can escape down that way.

“Go, Rand,” Ingtar said. He turned to face the street and did not look at Rand or Hurin again. “Take the Horn where it belongs. I always knew the Amyrlin should have given you the charge. But all I ever wanted was to keep Shienar whole, to keep us from being swept away and forgotten.”

“I know, Ingtar.” Rand drew a deep breath. “The Light shine on you, Lord Ingtar of House Shinowa, and may you shelter in the palm of the Creator’s hand.” He touched Ingtar’s shoulder. “The last embrace of the mother welcome you home.” Hurin gasped.

“Thank you,” Ingtar said softly. A tension seemed to go out of him. For the first time since the night of the Trolloc raid on Fal Dara, he stood as he had when Rand first saw him, confident and relaxed. Content.

Rand tells Hurin to go, cutting off Hurin’s protest by telling him that Lord Ingtar does what he must, but they must go. Hurin accepts this, and the two leave the alley to the sound of Seanchan soldiers approaching where Ingtar stands.

 

The fact that Nynaeve and company are rescuing Egwene at the same time that Rand and company are retrieving the Horn, both without any reason to think the other group would ever be near Falme, is the kind of dramatic irony and suspense I love. I was surprised last week when Rand “saw” Egwene in the gardens, and I wonder if he isn’t going to fight free from all the other drama and danger to get back to her, only to find her gone. Will he know that she was rescued?

His awareness of the pieces of his life and the danger that certain threads of his life, his future, are in seems to be a new skill, one that stems perhaps from his burgeoning skill in channeling. Or perhaps the things he saw while trapped by the Portal Stones gave him a new kind of perspective, more able to see the long game of his own life—after all, he saw (lived) an incalculable number of different lives. I wonder how that counts in real-world experience? Obviously one can learn broad strokes, such as Ingtar’s realizations about his own fate, but what about individual things? A lot of folks have quibbles about how Rand was able to beat Turak at swordplay—does he remember some of what he experienced in that other life when he was in the Queen’s Guard? Has he learned to weigh his choices differently? How many of those lives can his brain actually hold on to and remember?

(On a side note, if you haven’t seen Michael Carlisle’s article about Dr. Strange experiencing multiple timelines—Doctor Strange Spent a Year Fighting the Infinity War and No One Noticed —it really is worth a read. I’ve been keeping it in mind when I think about the Portal Stone experience, but I am not someone who really understands mathematical theory so I’m not going to try to actually apply it here.)

Hearing about what Ingtar experienced in the Portal Stone gives me a better look into his character, which I really appreciate. I had rightly assumed that his quest for the Horn had to do with his Darkfriend status, and had surmised that he wanted to reclaim the Horn to redeem himself. I hadn’t considered the more literal aspect of trying to get out of the Shadow, that Ingtar felt he needed something very specific in order to break the chains of his bondage to the Dark One. Rand tells him that “just wanting is enough” to stop being a Darkfriend, but I don’t know how true that really is. Padan Fain wanted to stop being a Darkfriend, he wept openly about it in front of Moiraine and the others, but he couldn’t just confess and be free, even without the complications of Mordeth.

This speaks to the same questions I was asking last week about how the Dark One’s control over his followers is exerted in the physical world. I have no problem believing that any Darkfriend who was useful enough to the Dark One but then turned back towards the Light would find some Myrddraal and Trollocs on his doorstep in short order, either to “persuade” him reconsider or to take a very horrible toll for the desertion. But what about the “souls” of the people who pledge themselves to the Great Lord of the Dark? Is that contract so easily broken by mere remorse? Does the Dark One have any kind of metaphysical legal claim to a soul that once served him? It seems like there are some pieces missing here, and the only actual evidence we have to go on is Ba’alzamon’s control over Rand’s mother in The Eye of the World, which I’m still not sure I believe was really her, that the truth Rand saw was what he thought he saw, so to speak.

Of course, none of this explains how Egwene sensed Rand in Falme. Can wielders of saidin and saidar sense each other, despite the differences in the two halves of the One Power? Or is this more of a soul connection, something connected to the Pattern but not related to the ability to channel?

I definitely laughed when Nynaeve said that the commotion in the street was none of their concern. And although Rand and company’s actions resulted in the soldier’s presence in the street and messed things up for Nynaeve and her plans, I do wonder if Egwene’s rash decision to strike out at them might have been a really good thing for Rand and co. Seems like there are plenty of Seanchan soldiers to go around, but what with the fireballs and the lightning raining from the sky, I’m sure that distraction is good for the boys. Perhaps it is even what tips the scales from them being caught to them escaping.

I loved the poetic justice of Egwene taking down Renna with the water pitcher; she’s getting revenge on the woman who collared her and, in a way, on the collar itself. I don’t blame her at all for turning the a’dam against her captor either, but I was really moved by Nynaeve’s reminder not to let hate turn Egwene into the very thing she despises. As for Nynaeve’s idea of justice… in many ways, what she does to Seta and Renna might be crueler than just killing them outright. Not if the women manage to free each other and keep the secret, but if they are found collared like damane their lives will either end in the torture that is used to find out exactly what happened, or they might even be kept as damane. I’m sure the sul’dam who find them will act in their own self-interest, so it really depends on what they decide will best keep their secret.

And we know that at least some damane would prefer death to life enslaved by the a’dam. I rather imagine Seta and Renna will feel the same.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall for Renna and Seta’s conversation, stuck alone in that room with the collars around their necks! I wonder what they would say to each other, if sul’dam have the kind of friendships where they might be honest about their fear and horror, where they might acknowledge, if only to each other, what this means about their own identity as channelers. Seta had clearly never believed Nynaeve could control her with the collar until Nynaeve gave her the pain, and Renna seems equally shocked that the collar worked on her (although since everything happened so fast, that could have been a more general disbelief). Do any sul’dam know the truth of themselves and hide it? How might Renna and Seta feel differently about their relationship to the damane? I don’t think they are going to become secret liberators of damane or anything, but this revelation cannot leave them wholly unchanged.

Nynaeve’s assertion that Renna and Seta might be allowed by the Pattern or fate to free themselves, if they have done enough good in the world, is an interesting one. Is there a specific notion of karma in this world? If you’re a terrible person but not a Darkfriend, do you still end up in the Dark One’s domain when you die? Does the Creator ever have a direct hand in intervening on behalf of the worthy, or does the system reward good people in some way? Why do I feel like Nynaeve has absolutely no belief that these women stand a chance at that kind of grace?

Oh wait, I know why.

If I hadn’t had the commenters to elaborate on the difference between those channelers born with the spark and those born without, the explanation of the difference between sul’dam and damane would have cleared up my confusion. Hearing about the sul’dam traveling to villages to test young girls makes me think that there was also an explanation back in The Eye of the World that the Aes Sedai do some kind of testing as well—we just never saw it because the Two Rivers is too remote. It does seem like, at least for the most part, those born with the spark are more powerful. They also have sneaky little secret tricks, like Moiraine’s listening stone, or Liandrin’s control trick. I bet Nynaeve’s going to make use of a lot of little non-Aes Sedai sanctioned tricks in her time, too.

I admired Bayle Domon’s courage and honesty in sticking to his word and waiting as long as he can for Nynaeve and the others. I wonder if any of them will reach him, but in the meantime, the quick cuts between him and Bornhald really serve to add to the suspense of the chapter. It’s like the reader can feel themselves being closed in upon on all sides, which is fitting as the final battle of the novel approaches, but also because it helps us feel how Rand and Ingtar must be feeling, trapped in that alley. The feeling is needed too, I think, because despite how emotional the revelation of Ingtar’s circumstance is, the scene itself is actually a little dull.

It wasn’t clear from the narration whether Ingtar’s sacrifice was the only way to save them, or if the decision to sacrifice himself had as much to do with wanting to end it as to buy the others time. I’m sure the sacrifice helped, but it didn’t feel quite as urgent as I was expecting it to. But in any case, we now know that Ingtar didn’t let the Trollocs into Fal Dara after all. Ostensibly this means that at least one of those Shienaran men who left with the Darkfriends and whose corpses were later found after having been skinned alive were also probably Darkfriends. This puts Ingtar’s decision to have them buried in a new light; he says it should be done because they don’t know for sure that the men were Darkfriends, but it may also be that Ingtar was wondering if they were Darkfriends who had regrets like his own. He had no choice but to obey his orders and let the archer into Fal Dara—perhaps he had empathy and compassion for men who had no choice but to obey their orders to open the dog gate.

In all honesty, I had completely forgotten about the arrow that was meant either for the Amyrlin or for Rand. I still don’t know why someone would want to shoot Rand (Ba’alzamon is still trying to get his living allegiance, after all), and I sort of wonder if the Amyrlin wasn’t the target all along. After all, there are Black Ajah in the White Tower who may be looking to take control, and I’m sure that destabilizing the running of the Aes Sedai even for a short time would be advantageous to any number of Ba’alzamon’s plans. Now I’m wondering who that mysterious assassin was, and if it’s someone we’ve already met in another context.

I guess Ingtar was probably the Shienaran soldier the man who called himself Bors saw at the Darkfriend gathering in the Prologue? How long has he been a Darkfriend, I wonder. His reasoning for becoming one made sense to me and was about what I expected it to be; his journey is very similar to Boromir’s, and despair is clearly a strong weapon in the Dark One’s arsenal, more so even than in Sauron’s. We’ve seen how the people of Fal Dar stand together, how loyal they are to each other. I can see how an exhausted and despairing captain like Ingtar might hit a point where serving the Dark One might seem a more attractive prospect than the total annihilation of the people he fights every day to preserve. I don’t know if everyone gets reincarnated in this universe, but if not, I hope Ingtar does find his way to the Creator’s hand, and I hope that he gets to see Rand save his people and bring them peace.

Then again, the Dragon is supposed to break the world again, so maybe not. No wonder so many Darkfriends are attracted to this promise of eternal life, when they think another Breaking is the future of humankind.

In the end, Ingtar’s ability to convince Rand to let him die stems from a sort of despair, too. He doesn’t know how to free himself from his bonds to the Dark One, so he chooses to do something meaningful with his death, but he still chooses death. Rand can see that this is what Ingtar wants, and doesn’t try to stop him. He didn’t tell Hurin the full story, but I think Rand’s insistence that Ingtar is doing “what he must” was phrased that way just for the sniffer’s benefit. I think Rand believes that this is the only choice for Ingtar, and not just because someone needs to stop the soldiers from following them.

Ingtar learned something important from Rand before he died. Now I wonder what lesson Rand just learned from Ingtar.

So that’s it for this week. Next week is the big one, friends. And judging by the title of Chapter 47, I think it just might have something to do with the Horn of Valere. In the meantime, I leave you with this question:

They’re not really going to leave Bela behind, are they?!

Sylas K Barrett is really sorry to see Ingtar go so soon, and would have loved to see a longer redemption arc. But he is very glad that this means Hurin will make it, at least to the next book.

citation

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