Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: Ba’alzamon’s Lies in Robert Jordan’s The Great Hunt (Part 26)

Well, this is it, my friends: the big showdown chapter. The challenge of writing a recap for “The Grave is No Bar to My Call” is that it is so superbly written. A lot happens in a short space of words, and the narrative is so tight and the descriptions so perfect that I kept finding that my “summaries” were longer than the passages themselves. I did my best not to rely too much on quoting passages from the chapter, but honestly there are so many good ones it was very hard to resist.

Seriously, my hat’s off to Jordan for this one.

Rand joins Mat and Perrin, who are already mounted, and explains to them that Ingtar is sacrificing himself so that they can escape. Privately though, he knows it is not only that. He kicks Red into a flat-out run, trying to escape Ingtar’s triumphant dying cries of “The Light and Shinowa!” But he can feel the weight of Ingtar’s loss, and the weight of his duty towards everyone and everything around him—the Horn, Mat and the dagger, Egwene’s captivity, and Padan Fain’s threat—all weighing down on him. He wishes that there could be only one pressing duty at a time.

When they pause for breath, Rand tells Perrin and Mat that they can help Verin take the Horn to where it needs to go, but that he himself has to go back. Although Perrin and Mat also want to go back for Egwene, Rand insists that they can’t waste any time; the Horn needs to be secured and Matt needs to go to Tar Valon to be separated from the dagger.

But their argument is forestalled by Perrin noticing an army riding out of Falme.

The wagon yards and horse lots were turning black with Seanchan soldiers, thousands of them rank on rank, with troops of cavalry riding scaled beasts as well as armored men on horses, colorful gonfanons marking the officers. Grolm dotted the ranks, and other strange creatures, almost but not quite like monstrous birds and lizards, and great things like nothing he could describe, with gray, wrinkled skin and huge tusks. At intervals along the lines stood sul’dam and damane by the score. Rand wondered if Egwene were one of them. In the town behind the soldiers, a rooftop still exploded now and again, and lightning still streaked the sky. Two flying beasts, with leathery wings twenty spans tip to tip, soared high overhead, keeping well away from where the bright bolts danced.

“All that for us?” Mat said incredulously. “Who do they think we are?”

An answer came to Rand, but he shoved it away before it had a chance to form completely.

Hurin points out the legion of Whitecloaks coming at them from the other direction. Caught between the two forces, Hurin worries that if either side sees the Horn they will take it; when Perrin points out that they’re going to be caught in the middle of a battle either way, Hurin also worries that either side will kill them out of hand, without even noticing the Horn at all.

But Rand is noticing the Horn at that moment. They all are.

“It has to be there at the Last Battle,” Mat said, licking his lips. “Nothing says it can’t be used before then.” He pulled the Horn free of its lashings and looked at them anxiously. “Nothing says it can’t.”

No one else said anything. Rand did not think he could speak; his own thoughts were too urgent to allow room for speech. Have to go back. Have to go back. The longer he looked at the Horn, the more urgent his thoughts became. Have to. Have to.

Mat’s hand shook as he raised the Horn of Valere to his lips.

He blows a long, clear note, and the sound of the Horn seems to resonate from every direction, even the sky. A fog begins to rise, billowing up to become an encompassing blanket over the land.

Captain Bornhald hears the beautiful sound, “so sweet he wanted to laugh, so mournful he wanted to cry,” that seems to come from everywhere at once, and, not knowing about Rand and his friends, assumes that the Seanchan are trying something sneaky. Despite the fog that is beginning to obscure everything, he orders the legion to break into a trot, and he can hear the horses’ hoof beats increase even though he can’t see the through the fog. Then the ground erupts beside him, showering him with dirt, and he can hear other explosions and the resulting screams of men and horses, though the carnage is hidden by the mist. Bornhald orders the legion to charge and thinks, regretfully, that because of the fog, Byar won’t be able to tell Dain how he died.

Rand could not see the trees around them any longer. Mat had lowered the Horn, eyes wide with awe, but the sound of it still rang in Rand’s ears. The fog hid everything in rolling waves as white as the finest bleached wool, yet Rand could see. He could see, but it was mad. Falme floated somewhere beneath him, its landward border black with the Seanchan ranks, lightning ripping its streets. Falme hung over his head. There Whitecloaks charged and died as the earth opened in fire beneath their horses’ hooves. There men ran about the decks of tall, square ships in the harbor, and on one ship, a familiar ship, fearful men waited. He could even recognize the face of the captain. Bayle Domon. He clutched his head with both hands. The trees were hidden, but he could still see each of the others clearly. Hurin anxious. Mat muttering, fearful. Perrin looking as if he knew this was meant to be. The fog roiled up all around them.

Hurin is the first to notice the coming of the Heroes, but he doesn’t need to point them out. They appear, riding down the billows of fog as though coming down hills, and as they come closer, Rand realizes that he recognizes every man and women among them. He knows them from more than the stories, too; every face Rand looks at, he somehow knows a hundred names for. And at their head rides Artur Hawkwing himself.

As they come to a halt before the three boys, Mat asks if this number, less than a hundred in total, is all of them. Artur Hawkwing answers that it takes more than just bravery to bind someone to the Horn. Looking to Rand, he adds that “Only a few are bound to the Wheel, spun out again and again to work the will of the Wheel in the Pattern of the Ages. You could tell him, Lews Therin, could you but remember when you wore flesh.”

Rand shakes his head at that but knows he doesn’t have time to waste arguing. He explains the situation to the Heroes, how the Seanchan must be driven back into the sea and how Egwene must be freed. He’s surprised when the Heroes find the mention of Egwene amusing, and the archer Birgitte tells him that he always chooses women who give him trouble. This time Rand does correct her for calling him Lews Therin, and tells them impatiently that they don’t have a lot of time.

Birgitte replies that they have all the time, but the Heroes ready themselves nevertheless.

Justice shone like a mirror in Artur Hawkwing’s gauntleted fist. “I have fought by your side times beyond number, Lews Therin, and faced you as many more. The Wheel spins us out for its purposes, not ours, to serve the Pattern. I know you, if you do not know yourself. We will drive these invaders out for you.” His warhorse pranced, and he looked around, frowning. “Something is wrong here. Something holds me.” Suddenly he turned his sharp-eyed gaze on Rand. “You are here. Have you the banner?” A murmur ran through those behind him.

“Yes.” Rand tore open the straps of his saddlebags and pulled out the Dragon’s banner. It filled his hands and hung almost to his stallion’s knees. The murmur among the heroes rose.

“The Pattern weaves itself around our necks like halters,” Artur Hawkwing said. “You are here. The banner is here. The weave of this moment is set. We have come to the Horn, but we must follow the banner. And the Dragon.” Hurin made a faint sound as if his throat had seized.

“Burn me,” Mat breathed. “It’s true. Burn me!”

Perrin swings down off of his horse and runs off into the mist—they can hear him chopping and after a moment he returns with with a pole made from a sapling tree. He takes the banner from Rand and secures it to his makeshift pole. The banner unrolls and the dragon ripples in a breeze that seems to exist only for it.

Rand offers Hurin the chance to stay behind, but the sniffer is determined to see things through, after staying this long with Rand, and Artur Hawkwing tells him that perhaps he will also someday be one of the Heroes of the Horn, as the Wheel does sometimes add to their number. Then Hawkwing asks “Lord Rand” for permission to advance, calling also to Mat, whom he refers to as “trumpeter” and to Perrin, whom he calls “bannerman.”

As they swing forward, Rand feels as though all the time they spent talking, all the time the Heroes had been answering the call, had been frozen, and only now as they begin to charge is it returning to its normal flow. Mat sounds the Horn into the fog, the horses pick up speed, and Rand wonders even as he charges if he knows where they are going. The fog keeps thickening until he can only see Hurin, Mat and Perrin clearly.

… Hurin crouched low in his saddle, wide-eyed, urging his horse on. Mat sounding the Horn, and laughing between. Perrin, his yellow eyes glowing, the Dragon’s banner streaming behind him. Then they were gone, too, and Rand rode on alone, as it seemed.

In a way, he could still see them, but now it was the way he could see Falme, and the Seanchan. He could not tell where they were, or where he was. He tightened his grip on his sword, peered into the mists ahead. He charged alone through the fog, and somehow he knew that was how it was meant to be.

Suddenly Ba’alzamon was before him in the mists, throwing his arms wide.

Red rears and throws Rand from the saddle, but Rand is surprised that the landing is gentle, almost as though he landed on nothing at all. Together, he and Ba’alzamon stand alone in the rolling fog, and Rand can see that it isn’t the mist that is dark behind Ba’alzamon, but rather that there is blackness that excludes the fog altogether. But despite being alone, Rand is still aware of the others, of the heroes colliding with the Seanchan, of Perrin keeping the banner aloft and defending it with his axe, of Mat sounding the Horn and Hurin fighting on foot. He is aware of the Seanchan falling back from the onslaught.

Rand has no choice but to assume the void and touch the True Source; as he goes to meet Ba’alzamon he knows that any chance he might have would be with the One Power. He demands that Ba’alzamon get out of his way, but Ba’alzamon taunts him over his interest in “the girl” and over his refusal to acknowledge who he is, despite even the heroes telling him the truth. Rand can’t think of a reason they would have lied to him, and although he’s desperate not to be the Dragon Reborn, he tries to focus instead on the battles, both the one he is fighting and the one that he can see in his mind’s eye.

“You pitiful wretch. You have sounded the Horn of Valere. You are linked to it, now. Do you think the worms of the White Tower will ever release you, now? They will put chains around your neck so heavy you will never cut them.”

Rand was so surprised he felt it inside the void. He doesn’t know everything. He doesn’t know! He was sure it must show on his face. To cover it, he rushed at Ba’alzamon. Hummingbird Kisses the Honeyrose. The Moon on the Water. The Swallow Rides the Air. Lightning arched between sword and staff. Coruscating glitter showered the fog. Yet Ba’alzamon fell back, his eyes blazing in furious furnaces.

As he attacks, Rand can see that the Seanchan are falling back. But Ba’alzamon keeps up his own attack, along with the now-familiar refrain of how Rand is killing himself trying to wield the One Power, how in the whole world, only Ba’alzamon can teach him to use it. Rand is desperate to hold him long enough for Hawkwing and the others to finish their battle, but as he is driven back by Ba’alzamon’s blows, he sees the heroes fall back as well. Then he rallies, and they surge forth again, diving the Seanchan through the streets of Falme.

Elated, Rand realizes that the pattern of the large battle is following that of his against Ba’alzamon. When Rand advances, the heroes of the Horn do as well, when he falls back, the Seanchan rally again. Ba’alzamon tells him that “they” cannot save him, that the only one who might have been able to will be carried off across the Aryth Ocean, and if ever sees them again they will be slaves, drawing Rand’s mind back to Egwene. But despite Ba’alzamon’s continued insistence that Rand is doomed, despite the memory of hearing that voice say over and over “I have won again, Lews Therin,” Rand doesn’t give in.

But he does notice that Ba’alzamon is wary of his sword, even though mere steel could never hurt the Dark One. In the void Rand is one with the sword, aware of every particle of it, aware of the One Power traveling from his own arm and down its length.

It was another voice he heard then. Lan’s voice. There will come a time when you want something more than you want life. Ingtar’s voice. It is every man’s right to choose when to Sheathe the Sword. The picture formed of Egwene, collared, living her life as a damane. Threads of my life in danger. Egwene. If Hawkwing gets into Falme, he can save her. Before he knew it, he had taken the first position of Heron Wading in the Rushes, balanced on one foot, sword raised high, open and defenseless. Death is lighter than a feather, duty heavier than a mountain.

Ba’alzamon stared at him. “Why are you grinning like an idiot, fool? Do you not know I can destroy you utterly?”

Rand felt a calmness beyond that of the void. “I will never serve you, Father of Lies. In a thousand lives, I never have. I know that. I’m sure of it. Come. It is time to die.”

Ba’alzamon’s eyes widen in surprise, and the darkness behind him roils up as his expressions hardens and he shouts “Then die, worm!” as he thrusts his staff at Rand like a spear. Rand takes the blow in his side, but manages in the last moment to drive his sword through Ba’alzamon’s heart. Ba’alazamon screams and the world explodes in fire.

 

Now, the “Sheathing the Sword” move has been the Chekov’s gun of The Great Hunt since Lan first introduced the concept, and we knew we were getting close to it when Ingtar was dismissive of Rand practicing Heron Wading in the Rushes in Chapter 44.

“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.”

Before his death, Ingtar learned something very special from Rand about living one’s life for the right reasons and how good deeds and glorious ones are not always the same thing. But Rand has learned many things from Ingtar, besides this last lesson about the weight of duty and the relative ease of death. Rand clearly remembered this conversation in his last critical moments facing Ba’alzamon.

I was really moved by the way Ingtar’s death affected Rand, both emotionally and in how it guided his actions going forward. I was a bit disappointed with how it shook out in the previous chapter because it felt like Ingtar was just giving up rather than continuing to face the hard choices, but it wasn’t really addressed. Now I can see the arc of that decision more clearly; through Rand I understand and empathize with Ingtar’s choice even more, and from a technical standpoint I can see a theme developing that I think will carry through the entire arc of Rand’s life. When Rand chooses to Sheathe the Sword, he is making a sacrifice in order to reach a goal more important to him than his own life—the defeat of the Seanchan and salvation of Egwene—the way Lan taught him. But Rand is also acknowledging that death is a lighter burden than the duty the Dragon Reborn carries, and while I don’t think he wants to die, I do think he may be experiencing a little of the same relief Ingtar felt when he made the decision to sacrifice himself. I’ve never quite believed Ba’alzamon when he claimed that he could control Rand after he’s dead, and I don’t think Rand believes it, either. Thus, the death Rand expects will also be a release from the incredible burden of his duty and destiny as the Dragon Reborn.

He thinks, anyway.

Ingtar is also the first person Rand has ever lost, now that he knows Thom survived the Myrddraal, and there is the added tragedy that Ingtar was previously lost to the Shadow. Rand has faced the Dark One’s agents for so long that the threat from Trollocs and Darkfriends has become almost normal for him, but the threat of good people, good friends, being seduced by the Dark is another experience altogether. And this won’t be the last time either, I’m sure.

The interesting thing about having Artur Hawkwing as the leader of the heroes of the Horn is that we have almost Inception levels of King Arthur parallels. Rand himself is already a religious-style savior who returns to the land at its hour of greatest need, and we see Jordan play into this by giving people close to him Arthurian-sounding names as well, with Egwene al’Vere sounding like Guinevere (and Elayne sounding similar too, plus having brothers named Gawyn and Galad) and Thom Merrilin sounding rather like Merlin. But it is the character of Artur Paendrag Tanreall (Paendrag sounding very much like Pendragon) who is most closely modeled after Arthurian legend: He unified all the lands, then died tragically and ruined what he had accomplished because he was unfairly angry with a bunch of women. So we have, in effect, a King Arthur character being called to return to save the land by a messianic figure that is also dressed in some King Arthur details.

I am still a little confused as to who understands what about how the Horn works. Does Mat know that he will be able to use the Horn to call the heroes again, or does he literally believe that it’s enough for the Horn to be at the Last Battle, and that nothing says it actually has to be useable at that time. Does he know that he’s tied himself to the Horn now, and will be the only one who can wield it for the rest of his life? I guess probably not, even after Artur Hawkwing called him “trumpeter,” which really is just in character for a man who is very much an “act now, think later” kind of guy.

But Perrin has tied himself to Rand now too, and I suspect that the designation of “bannerman” will continue to have an effect on his life just as being the wielder of the Horn will on Mat. But then, they are both ta’veren in their own right, so it makes sense that these seemingly small actions would have a far-reaching effect. And Perrin seems to have resigned himself to the notion that you can’t fight your fate—his own struggle with destiny has probably made it easier for him to adjust to Rand having one as well. He is still our Perrin, who thinks everything through and takes his time with it. I suspect he just did all that thinking before now. And now, he is ready to act.

Rand himself is also resisting less and less: He ignores being called Lews Therin in favor of getting things done, and he’s increasingly willing to embrace the True Source when he must. I really thought that, when Artur Hawkwing said something was holding him, it was going to be that Rand had not yet “declared himself,” that Rand would literally have to say the words “I am the Dragon Reborn.” I guess riding under the Dragon banner is basically the same thing, but it does leave a little bit of wiggle room. Still, Rand has moved from thinking that it is impossible for him to be the Dragon to just thinking that he doesn’t want to be, and that is a pretty big step.

As is facing Ba’alzamon again. I guess this is just Ba’alzamon’s thing, creating little pocket-spaces in the sky for him and Rand to have show-downs in? I guess it’s not anymore flashy than any of the other things that Ba’alzamon does.

But the thing is, a lot of what Ba’alzamon does doesn’t make a lot of sense, given what we supposedly know about the Dark One. For example, the seals are not all broken yet (as far as we know), so how is Ba’alzamon getting out here to bother Rand all the time? It’s clear enough that the humanoid entity can’t possibly be the entirety of the Dark One—in The Eye of the World I assumed that Ba’alzamon was just a projection made of the Dark One’s power, while through most of The Great Hunt I’ve been wondering if maybe the Dark One figured out how to create or posses a human body somehow. In other words, his body is still trapped but his mind has found a way to wiggle free.

Back in the Prologue, the man who called himself Bors thought it was odd that Ba’alzamon would appear to them the way he did—he thought perhaps it was one of the Forsaken, then went on to question if even one of the Forsaken would appear so before them, with the visible burns and the red mask that hid his face. And while the Dark One may be both immortal and supernaturally powerful, whatever this humanoid figure is, it is subject to physical rules. After being injured by Rand at the end of The Eye of the World, Ba’alzamon had to heal normally, even though it was at a rate accelerated by his power. And now, again, he seems to fear Rand’s sword as though mere steel could (and eventually does) harm him. Not only that, but he’s making mistakes such as thinking Rand blew the Horn instead of Mat.

For that matter, how is it that Ba’alzamon can teach Rand to channel? The Dark One must have practically infinite knowledge, but does he himself wield the One Power the same way a human might? It seems like his connection to the True Source would have to be remarkably different than that of a mortal person, and even though the Dark One is called a “he,” I doubt he’s actually gendered in a traditional way. Still, he must be able to teach Rand somehow; sure he might lie about it just to get Rand to surrender to him, but if Rand did join him, no doubt Ba’alzamon would want his new servant to be operating at his full potential. Perhaps there’s some way to force the issue, like how the a’dam helps Egwene access her abilities in a different way than the Aes Sedai training does.

Then again, there is one more possibility, and that is that this person who calls himself Ba’alzamon really isn’t the Dark One, but a very powerful channeler impersonating him for some reason. Which seems like a really dangerous and stupid thing to do, but that could be in character for a powerful and power-hungry Darkfriend. Would any of the Forsaken dare to do such a thing, if they escaped out of their prison like Aginor and Balthamel did? Someone who was such a powerful channeler that they could give themselves the illusion of having a furnace for a mouth, and invade people’s dreams, and wield amounts of saidin that would seem to a person born in this Age to be impossible for any human being to control? It would explain the physical frailties, and perhaps also make more sense of his obsession with Rand, if this person viewed them as two equals on opposites sides of a war.

Someone like Elan Morin Tedronai, named by men “The Betrayer of Hope” even as men named Lews Therin Telamon “The Dragon Reborn,” back in the Prologue of The Eye of the World. That man spoke to Lews Therin very similarly to the way Ba’alzamon talks to Rand.

Lews Therin raised his head, and the black-clad man took an involuntary step back from that gaze. “Ten years, Betrayer,” Lews Therin said softly, the soft sound of steel being bared. “Ten years your foul master has wracked the world. And now this. I will…”

“Ten years! You pitiful fool! This war has not lasted ten years, but since the beginning of time. You and I have fought a thousand battles with the turning of the Wheel, a thousand times a thousand, and we will fight until time dies and the Shadow is triumphant!” He finished in a shout, with a raised fist, and it was Lews Therin’s turn to pull back, breath catching at the glow in the Betrayer’s eyes.

I wonder if that glow is supposed to be metaphorical or literal, like the first hint of flames in a furnace. And I do know by now that Jordan doesn’t let these threads drop; sooner or later that character has to come back, and what a trick if all this time it wasn’t even the real Ba’alzamon at all. I wonder if the clue doesn’t lie in the blackness that is always described as being behind him, a blackness that seems more entity than shadow, that responds with emotion at times and always seems to be coming for you.

I’m nowhere near certain that I’m right in these musings, but I can’t find much of a flaw in the theory. Either way, there are so many questions that have not yet been answered about the man who calls himself Ba’alzamon. How does he know that Egwene, Elayne, and Nynaeve are the ones who could possibly save Rand? Has he seen it, in a prophecy or perhaps by interacting with the Pattern directly somehow? Or is he just making the assumption because the three women are such powerful channelers? Rand seems to have a sense of how events are endangering his own future, how Egwene is very important to that future, which I just sort of assumed was due to his connection to the Wheel as a reincarnated figure, but I don’t know how Ba’alzamon could know this, unless maybe he has Min’s power and has been spying on them all from time-to-time to do readings and see if they’re important to Rand’s success as the Dragon.

And finally, just how much is what Ba’alzamon says just a straight-up lie? I’ve realized that I’ve actually been at least half-believing everything he says since the one thing that he and Rand have argued the most about is whether or not Rand is the Dragon, which the reader knows is a truth. But maybe Ba’alzamon, Dark One or not, can’t actually touch Rand if he dies. Even if he manages to kill Rand, the Dragon will just be reincarnated again, and the cycle of opposing the Shadow will continue. This is clearly what Rand has decided, and I thought it was absolutely chilling that he found such a positive message in the horrible lives he lived while caught by the Portal Stone. He may have died in agony more times than he can count, he may have lost everything, but he never did say yes to Ba’alzamon’s offer. And it makes me wonder if he ever has, in any of his previous incarnations. Ba’alzamon claimed that he did. But as Rand is constantly reminding us, this is the Father of Lies, or, at the very least, someone impersonating him.

The next post will be the last for The Great Hunt; the climax is over and all that remains is to see what has become of everyone and set them all out on the next stage of their journey. Stay tuned for Chapters 48-50, and in the meantime, enjoy my bonus thoughts.

  • In his last moments, Ingtar’s battle cry is not for Fal Dara or Shienar, but for himself. The Light, and Shinowa. He dies for himself and to walk again in the Light.
  • I learned a new word today. Gonfanon: the flag beneath the head of a knight’s lance.
  • Rand sees the Seanchan riding wrinkly gray animals with tusks. Those are Oliphants, aren’t they Jordan. Just admit it.
  • Hawkwing’s sword is actually just called Justice. I suppose subtlety is overrated.
  • Hawkwing tells “Lews Therin that he could tell his friends about being bound to the Wheel, if he “could remember when [he] wore flesh.” I get where he’s going with this—he means, if you could remember your past life as Lews Therin—but Rand’s wearing flesh now. He’s not dead. It’s just a really weird sentence. If I had been Jordan’s editor I would have had him change it.
  • Hurin is so precious when Hawkwing suggests that he might become one of their number some day. I love him so much. I think this moment also illustrates what kind of leader Artur Hawkwing was in life; we know that the common people really loved him, and that seems to bear out here.
  • So being a ta’veren really is is pretty powerful indeed, if someone of Rand’s caliber can affect an entire battle.
  • I love that in the midst of all this drama and “seeing” things with some kind of power, Rand still notices and recognizes Bayle Domon.

Sylas K Barrett loves that there are women among the heroes of the Horn. More of that, please.

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