Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: Lost Queens and Exiled Aiel in Robert Jordan’s The Dragon Reborn (Part 16)

Welcome back to the Read, dear friends! This week, Nynaeve, Egwene, and Elayne have a sort of side-adventure, which proved difficult to summarize but contains a lot of tidbits of information and foreshadowing that, I can tell, are going to be important later. We meet some more Aiel, including Aviendha, who I have rather a suspicion will end up being an important character, and learn a little bit more about their cultural identity too. We see a bit of a power struggle between Nynaeve and Egwene, as well, and I try to make sense of some casually-dropped tidbits like “the Dragonwall” and someone named “Tigraine,” who Rand apparently looks like? More on that later (I confess I had to go back through the glossaries) but first, let’s get to the recap.

Chapter 37 opens with Egwene standing on the deck of a ship called the Blue Crane, watching the shores of Cairhien slip by. She’s somewhat distracted by the ship’s crewmen, who keep bowing to her as they go about their duties. She’d managed to convince Nynaeve to let her and Elayne try to pass as Aes Sedai, even though Nynaeve had been convinced that they were too young for anyone to believe it. And they had received some startled looks when people saw the Great Serpent rings on their right hands and the youth in their faces, but they were accepted anyway. Both the Captain and crew of the Blue Crane had been obsequious in their desire to serve the Aes Sedai, although they’d also been startled by their request for a single cabin.

Egwene is watching the abandoned, smoking ruins of a Cairhienin village on the shores of the river as the pass, and trying to maintain an appropriately Aes Sedai level of composure at the sight. Privately, though, she wishes for a real Aes Sedai, and one she could trust, that she could look to for guidance in the face of the ruin in Cairhien and her struggle with the stone ring ter’angreal. Despite trying to use the ring a few more times, she’s never been able to learn or see anything useful, besides finding herself in the Heart of the Stone a few more times. Without the ter’angreal she still seemed to see glimpses of Tel’aran’rhiod, though; she saw Rand wielding a sword that blazed like the sun, or standing on a giant stones board as giant hands moved the pieces and seemed to try to crush him. She also saw Perrin with a Falcon and Hawk fighting over him, of Perrin stepping off the edge of a cliff and hoping to learn to fly on his way down. Min springing a steel trap without realizing she’d walked through it. Egwene also saw Mat with dice spinning around him, Mat being followed by a man who was not there, and Mat with a woman who seemed to be an Illuminator. Egwene’s not sure if all these dreams are Dreams or not, but it seems like her talent is growing.

…Men and women breaking out of a cage, then putting on crowns. A woman playing with puppets, and another dream where the strings on puppets led to the hands of larger puppets, and their strings led to still greater puppets, on and on until the last strings vanished into unimaginable heights. Kings dying, queens weeping, battles raging. Whitecloaks ravaging the Two Rivers. She had even dreamed of the Seanchan again. More than once. Those she shut away in a dark corner; she would not let herself think of them. Her mother and father, every night.

At least she’s certain that dreaming of her parents is just homesickness, a longing for security she once knew when she lived at home and had them to guide her. But she knows that they can’t protect her now, and she’ll only see them again when she visits, once she is proper Aes Sedai for real and can travel home as she chooses.

Elayne joins her on deck and asks how Egwene can ignore the sight of the destruction in Cairhien; Egwene replies that she ignores it because there is nothing she can do about it and because they need to focus on what they are hunting, which is in Tear. Elayne knows this as well, but it can’t stop her from feeling for the Cairhienin, and she doesn’t rise to the bait when Egwene points out that Andor has fought many wars against Cairhien.

Egwene, her mind on Mat and the Amyrlin’s paper and her dreams, suddenly realizes that the man who was not there must be a Gray Man. She exclaims aloud, frightening Elayne, and they discuss Egwene’s revelation and whether the Gray Man has anything to do with Elayne’s letter and charge to deliver it. They are discussing if this revelation might lead to Egwene realizing other meanings in her dreams when the ship lurches suddenly, throwing them to the deck. The captain and crew rush to find out what has happened, and it’s soon announced that they’ve crashed into a sunken ship, probably the work of river brigands.

Nynaeve emerges from below deck and goes to talk to the captain. Upon discovering that they’re well stuck and will need to wait until a second ship comes to help pull them off, Nynaeve decides that they will go ashore on the Cairhienin side and walk two hours to the town Jurene, which is held by the soldiers of Andor and where they can board another ship. She does not think they can afford to wait for another ship to come along; it could be days before the Blue Crane is free. Egwene starts to question this decision, but Elayne quickly interrupts and agrees with Nynaeve’s reasoning. The captain protests, but Nynaeve reminds him that they are far from defenseless, and he agrees to have a boat readied to put them ashore. She goes below to collect her things.

“If one of you says ‘up,’ ” Elayne murmured, “the other says ‘down.’ If you do not stop it, we may not reach Tear.”

“We will reach Tear,” Egwene said. “And sooner once Nynaeve realizes she is not the Wisdom any longer. We are all”—she did not say Accepted; there were too many men hurrying about—“on the same level, now.” Elayne sighed.

They are soon ashore, and Egwene makes sure to take the lead before Nynaeve can. Elayne attempts to start conversation but neither of the Emond’s Fielders are interested. Eventually, Egwene announces that she is determined to defend herself if they encounter brigands; the Amyrlin is not there to stop them now. Nynaeve reminds her that they can drive off brigands the same way they drove off the Whitecloaks before, if they can’t find another way, while Elayne pipes up that she’d rather reach the village without trouble. Just then a figure rises up before them out of the grass.

Egwene and Elayne both scream and embrace saidar, Nynaeve just folds her arms and looks stern. Before them in the grass stands a woman no older than Egwene. Elayne lets go of saidar as she realizes this, but Egwene doesn’t relax as easily.

She did not let go of saidar. Men were sometimes silly enough to think a woman was harmless merely because she was a woman; Egwene had no such illusions. In a corner of her mind she noted that Elayne was no longer surrounded by the glow. The Daughter-Heir must still harbor foolish notions. She was never a Seanchan prisoner.

Egwene realizes, however, that she feels a sort of kinship to this woman, who, with her reddish hair, blue-green eyes, and height looks a lot like Rand. Egwene has heard of the Maidens of the Spear, Aiel woman as deadly as the male warriors, and she’s very curious as to what an Aiel is doing outside the Waste.

The woman introduces herself as Aviendha of the Nine Valleys sept of the Taardad Aiel, and asks if they are the women of this land who are similar to the Wise ones in theirs, the Aes Sedai of the White Tower. Egwene is alarmed at the revelation that there are others around that she cannot see, and so is Elayne, but Nynaeve is very obvious in not looking as she answers that they are women of the White Tower. Aviendha explains that one of her companions is hurt, perhaps dying, and asks if they will help her.

“I will help her if I can,” Nynaeve said slowly. “I cannot make promises, Aviendha. She may die despite anything I can do.”

“Death comes for us all,” the Aiel said. “We can only choose how to face it when it comes. I will take you to her.”

Two other women, as young as Egwene and Elayne, stand up out of hiding places that Egwene could never have dreamed would hide a whole person, and remove black veils from their faces. They pass weapons—knives and spears and a small shield—back to Aviendha, and they lead the way back to their friend, scanning the land warily as they go. Nynaeve walks in front with Aviendha, but the other two Aiel women, Chiad and Bain, begin to talk to Egwene and Elayne, and Egwene struggles to understand cultural differences such as the notion of what it means for a maiden to wed the spear, and the concept of first- and second-sisters. Elayne explains that the term first-sister indicates blood relations through the same mother, while second-sister refers to girls whose mothers were first-sisters. Further complicating matters is the fact that the Aiel have first-sister relationships that can be created not by birth but by “speak[ing] the words before the Wise Ones,” and being bonded as first sisters.

“As is proper for first-sisters who are Maidens, we guard each other’s backs, and neither will let a man come to her without the other. I would not say we do not care for men.” Chiad nodded, with just the hint of a smile. “Have I made the truth clear to you, Egwene?”

“Yes,” Egwene said faintly. She glanced at Elayne and saw the bewilderment in her blue eyes she knew must be in her own. Not Red Ajah. Green, maybe. A cross between Warders and Green Ajah, and I do not understand another thing out of that. “The truth is quite clear to me, now, Bain. Thank you.”

Chaid admits she doesn’t know how two women who are the equivalent of Wise Ones would be able to speak the words, but Elayne promises that it is not necessary, that she and Egwene already watch each other’s backs, prompting surprise from the Aiel that Wise Ones would need to guard against anything; “no one would dare raise a hand to a Wise One.”

Egwene is saved having to answer by their arrival at a copse of trees where Dailin, the injured woman, lies, mostly unconscious and with bandages around her stomach where she took a sword from soldiers who thought the Aiel women were brigands. Nynaeve is annoyed when she realizes that Dailin has been moved; apparently she wanted to die near water. She sets about getting her herbs together and sending the Aiel to the river for fresh water—they’re surprised that an Aes Sedai would use herbs and more than a little wary of the river.

Egwene, wanting to distract them from Nynaeve’s terse attitude, asks about their reaction to the river, and although she’s trying to soothe them, she only unearths more cultural differences as she learns how little water there really is in the Waste. She realizes that she has only made the women more stressed and tense by her questioning, and starts reaching for saidar.

“I would never harm an Aes Sedai,” Aviendha said abruptly. “I would have you know that. Whether Dailin lives or dies, it makes no difference in that. I would never use this”—she lifted one short spear a trifle—“against any woman. And you are Aes Sedai.” Egwene had the sudden feeling that the woman was trying to soothe them.

Elayne says that she knows this, knows that the Aiel never harm women unless they are wedded to the spear, but Bain clarifies that she would teach a lesson to any not-wedded woman who came at her with weapons. As Nynaeve urges Dailin to drink her mixture of herbs, Aviendha continues to clarify that they would not fight Aes Sedai even if they came at them with weapons.

“Not even then, Aes Sedai,” Aviendha told Elayne. She kept her eyes on Dailin and Nynaeve, though. “It is said that once, before the Breaking of the World, we served the Aes Sedai, though no story says how. We failed in that service. Perhaps that is the sin that sent us to the Three-fold Land; I do not know. No one knows what the sin was, except maybe the Wise Ones, or the clan chiefs, and they do not say. It is said if we fail the Aes Sedai again, they will destroy us.”

“Drink it all,” Nynaeve muttered. “Swords! Swords and muscles and no brains!”

“We are not going to destroy you,” Elayne said firmly, and Aviendha nodded.

“As you say, Aes Sedai. But the old stories are all clear on one point. We must never fight Aes Sedai. If you bring your lightnings and your balefire against me, I will dance with them, but I will not harm you.”

As Egwene questions Aviendha as to what balefire is (neither of them know), Nynaeve starts off on a rant about stabbing and tearing up bodies, alarming the Aiel, but Egwene and Elayne can see what Nynaeve is really doing, working herself up so that she can channel. They both try to watch what Nynaeve does as Dailin jerks upward with a cry and then falls back again.

When Nynaeve wipes the blood from Dailin’s stomach, there is no mark on the healthy skin there, although it’s new and paler than the rest of her. Nynaeve instructs the Aiel to finish cleaning her up and to have food ready for Dailin when she wakes. Aviendha tells Nynaeve that she owes the Aes Sedai a blood-debt for healing her mother’s sister’s daughter, but Nynaeve brushes her off, asking instead about ships at Jurene.

In discussing ships, Egwene learns that the Aiel, when they couldn’t find bridges, figured out how to make “little ships” by lashing logs together, and she’s more than a little impressed by their bravery in facing something they fear so much. But a voice inside her reminds her that she is doing much the same, facing the Black Ajah, although she feels like she has less of a choice than the Aiel did. This prompts her to ask why the Aiel came all this way, and learns that they seek He Who Comes With the Dawn. She also learns that this man is said to have been born to Far Dareis Mai, a Maiden of the Spear, and given up, as is required of a Maiden who doesn’t want to give up the Spear instead. The Wise Ones have told the Aiel that he is to be found in this land beyond the Dragonwall, and ask careful questions as to what three Aes Sedai are doing in this land. Nynaeve answers obliquely, saying they are going to Tear to hunt Darkfriends—Shadowrunners, the Aiel call them—and a sideways mention of the Heart of the Stone gets the Aiel’s attention. She briskly gets Elayne and Egwene moving after that, and they are soon on their way again.

As they walk, Egwene learns from Elayne that the Aiel don’t regard the Aiel War as a war so much as they think of it as a headsman or thief-taker doing his duties; to them, the conflict was just them “coming after King Laman of Cairhien for the crime of cutting down Avendoraldera,” a cutting of the Tree of Life itself that was given, along with the right to cross the Waste, to Cairhien as an offer of peace. No one knows how the Aiel came by a sapling of Avendesora, or why they called the Cairhienin “the Watersharers.” But Egwene can rather understand why the Aiel would be mad that Laman cut down their gift to make himself a throne.

Elyane points out that “He Who Comes With the Dawn,” must be Rand, surprising Egwene. She mentions the prophecy of how the Dragon will be born on Dragonmount, and how Rand does look like an Aiel, or rather like pictures she has seen of someone called Tigraine. Elayne suspects his mother was a Maiden of the Spear, and Egwene thinks quietly to herself that Nynaeve might know more about Rand’s birth than she is saying.

They are passing some trees when suddenly Elayne cries out a warning; Egwene touches saidar but she isn’t fast enough as men with slings step out from the trees, and something strikes her head, knocking her unconscious.

Egwene wakes strapped over the back of a horse, her head aching, in the middle of a group of men. She finds herself unable to gasp saidar due to the pain in her head, and hangs helpless as they arrive at a large log palisade, filled with horses and caged animals and perhaps a hundred men. She manages to catch sight of Elayne and Nynaeve too, hanging unconscious over the backs of other horses, but ten some of the men spot that she is awake and she is knocked out again.

The second time she wakes with a bitter taste in her mouth, but less pain in her head. She finds herself lying on her back in the dirt, with Nynaeve and Elayne nearby. Elayne’s face has blood on it, but Elayne can see that they are breathing and goes to put her eye to a crack in the door of the dark room. Outside she sees men and hears them talking about their prisoners, one big blond man, Adden, going on about how there’s good money in Aes Sedai prisoners, if you have the stomach to go to the right buyer. Egwene can see that they’ve taken the three serpent rings as the men continue to discuss the safety, or lack thereof, of having Aes Sedai as prisoners; one man, Coke, assures the others that his granny taught him to make stuff to keep them sleeping till sunrise.

Egwene moves back to Nynaeve as quietly as she can, and is surprised when Nynaeve jolts awake. She covers Nyneave ‘s mouth and explains the situation, and Nynaeve is dryly amused to realize (from the taste in her mouth) that the man gave them sleepwell root, which merely eases headaches and can make people drowsy, but in their case, just cleared the pain they were suffering from being hit in the head.

But things get more complicated when they go to wake Elayne and Nynaeve discovers that she’s much more badly hurt, possibly dying. Nynaeve, trembling, says she can’t heal Elayne without her herbs, and then begins to berate Elayne, saying that she didn’t bring Elayne all this way just to have her die, that she should have left her scrubbing pots or tied her up in a sack for Mat to carry to Morgase. Saidar blossoms around her, and Elayne’s eyes and mouth both open.

Egwene got her hands over Elayne’s mouth just in time to muffle any sound, she thought, but as she touched her, the eddies of Nynaeve’s Healing caught her like a straw on the edge of a whirlpool. Cold froze her to the bone, meeting heat that “seared outward as if it meant to crisp her flesh; the world vanished in a sensation of rushing, falling, flying, spinning.

When it finally ended, she was breathing hard and staring down at Elayne, who stared back over the hands she still had pressed over her woman’s mouth. The last of Egwene’s headache was gone. Even the backwash of what Nynaeve had done had apparently been enough for that. The murmur of voices from the other room was no louder; if Elayne had made any noise—or if she had—Adden and the others had not noticed.

Nynaeve was on her hands and knees, head down and shaking. “Light!” she muttered. “Doing it that way… was like peeling off… my own skin. Oh, Light!” She peered at Elayne. “How do you feel, girl?” Egwene pulled her hands away.

Elayne answers that she feels tired and hungry, and Egwene fills her in on everything. The three embrace saidar and go back to see what they have to deal with… and find that three Myrddraal have arrived. One picks up a ring from the table, not a Great Serpent ring but a heavier gold one, and Nynaeve fumbles around her neck when she sees it. Another Myrddraal declares that these three Aes Sedai are the ones it seeks, and that the men will be well rewarded. Nynaeve whispers that they must take the Myrddraal by surprise, and Egwene reaches out with Earth to break the iron chain holding the door. One of the Myrddraal senses her small channeling, but not in time; as the chain falls and the Myrddraal turn, the outer door bursts open as well and Aiel, in their black veils, come pouring in.

Soon all the men are down (as well as two Aiel) and the Myrddraal stand back to back surrounded by Aiel, taunting them by pounding on their shields and demanding that the “Eyeless” dance with them. Nynaeve decides this is the moment to get involved, and the three women push the door of their prison open.

It seemed as though, for the Myrddraal, the Aiel had ceased to exist, and for the Aiel, the Myrddraal. The Aiel stared at Egwene and the others above their veils as if not quite sure what they were seeing; she heard one of the women gasp loudly. The Myrddraal’s eyeless stare was different. Egwene could almost feel the Halfmen’s knowledge of their own deaths in it; Halfmen knew women embracing the True Source when they saw them. She was sure she could feel a desire for her death, too, if theirs could buy hers, and an even stronger desire to strip the soul out of her flesh and make both playthings for the Shadow, a desire to…

She had just stepped into the room, yet it seemed she had been meeting that stare for hours. “I’ll take no more of this,” she growled, and unleashed a flow of Fire.

She makes flames burst out of the Myrddraal even as Elayne crushes them in on themselves and “something shot out from Nynaeve’s hands—a thin bar of white light that made noonday sun seem dark, a bar of fire that made molten metal seem cold, connecting her hands to the Myrddraal. And they ceased to exist as if they had never been.”

Elayne asks what Nynaeve did but Nynaeve isn’t sure. Egwene, privately, thinks that it must have been Balefire. They release saidar and the Aiel hastily unveil themselves. The men in the group remind Egwene of Warders by the way they carry themselves, and recognizes Aviendha among the women. One of the dead is Dailin, and Nynaeve curses at them that she did not Heal the woman just to have her die like this.

Elayne apologizes for interrupting their “dance,” but an older man, Rhuarc, says that while they could have killed the Myrddraal, three Shadowmen would have killed some of them too, if not all, and that while the young wish to try their strength against death, the older are not quite so eager. Nynaeve, apparently soothed by meeting an Aiel who does not seem quite so excited about death, thanks the Aiel, and asks how they found them. Aviendha admits that she was following them and saw them get captured, and went to find some of the other Aiel she knew were in the area, although she did not expect to find her own clan chief, Rhuarc, among them. Rhuarc, meanwhile, is interested in the gold ring on the table; up close Egwene recognizes it as one she has seen before on a cord around Nynaeve’s neck. Nynaeve snatches it away from him.

“And one of them carries a ring I have heard of as a boy. The ring of Malkieri kings. They rode with the Shienarans against the Aiel in my father’s time. They were good in the dance of the spears. But Malkier fell to the Blight. It is said only a child king survived, and he courts the death that took his land as other men court beautiful women. Truly, this is a strange thing, Aes Sedai. Of all the strange sights I thought I might see when Melaine harried me out of my own hold and over the Dragonwall, none has been so strange as this. The path you set me is one I never thought my feet would follow.”

Nynaeve insists she sets no path, and declares her intention to take horses and continue on their way, but since it is night they agree to wait until morning. The Aiel accompany them, easily keeping pace with the horses, until the rooftops of Jurene come into view. Then they leave, Rhuarc telling them that perhaps they will “meet again before the change comes.”

In Jurene they hide their Aes Sedai rings and find a ship called the Darter docked there. From its captain they learn that the Blue Crane is still hung up on something up river. Nynaeve pays for their passage, and the three get back on their way.

 

When I say Nynaeve was wrong while still managing to be right, I’m referring to the fact that this “easy two hour walk” turned into a very near disaster, as Captain Ellisor warned her it would. However, they did make it all in one piece, and much sooner than they would have if they had stayed on the Blue Crane, so in the end she was overconfident and maybe even foolish… but still right.

I can imagine that restraint and humility are going to be hard lessons for Nynaeve to learn, given how her talents keep letting her scrape by when by all rights maybe she shouldn’t—not to mention some rather pervasive luck. I am very curious as to how far she’s gotten in her studies in the White Tower and whether any of the healing she does in these chapters is something she has studied at all. It was interesting to see the difference between her first Healing of Dailin using both her herbs and saidar vs. when she Heals Elayne with the Power alone. The Aes Sedai would certainly never have taught her to use herbs in conjunction with her power; however, using the herbs seemed to take a lot less out of her. Perhaps because they are the thing she has studied, and understands, whereas her use of saidar is much more new, unknown, and untested.

All three women have shown their progressing strength in these chapters, from the ease with which Egwene and Elayne can reach saidar to Nynaeve’s Healing powers, to the way they all took out the Myrddraal. And now we know what Balefire is, and it seems to be the same as the bolts of white light that we saw Rand shooting from his fists, earlier.

These increasing powers are a source of strain between Nynaeve and Egwene, though. I suppose it was inevitable. It’s not just that Nynaeve was once the Wisdom and therefore in charge of Egwene and the other women of Emond’s Field—she also has a particularly maternal and protective instinct when it comes to Egwene because of the connection she forged between them the first time she used her Power, instinctively Healing Egwene without knowing that she was doing it. Being protective of Egwene is part of Nynaeve’s identity; half the reason she came to the White Tower was to protect and look after Egwene. She’s moved beyond that motivation now, but the protective instinct is going to be harder to let go of, I think.

Egwene, however, is rapidly becoming more and more independent, and desirous of that independence. A lot of that seems to have been catalyzed by her experiences as a damane, and while Egwene is still fairly deferential to the Aes Sedai who have seniority over her (at least in comparison to how Nynaeve handles it), you can see how much she craves being the senior instead. I made a similar observation about her attitudes back in week 7 of the read of The Dragon Reborn, and I feel like we’re already seeing more evidence for my suggestion back then that she might end up being Amyrlin one day. There’s her trip through the third archway of the ter’angreal, of course, but there’s also her continued attempts to suss out when rules are correct and when they are not, when decisions are wise and when they are not, and her budding need to assert a prerogative over those choices. She really isn’t a little girl anymore, and I can understand her need to re-evaluate her relationship to Nynaeve as equals as a logical first step in owning her own authority.

You can compare and contrast that need with her struggle to understand the politics of interacting with the Aiel. I remain amused at the extent to which the Aiel we encounter still act and speak as though everyone should understand their culture and have similar ways of being themselves. There is no reason for Chiad and Bain to be shocked that there is no equivalent of “speaking words” to become first sisters in the countries outside of their homeland, or be certain that everyone knows that no Aiel warrior would raise a hand against a Wise One/Aes Sedai. (Although I guess I can see how they would expect Aes Sedai to know more than them on every subject.) I think the point is supposed to be that their rules of being are so strict and so ingrained that they just can’t quite get their heads around the idea that other people wouldn’t follow at least very similar ways of living.

Speaking of first-sisters, and excuse my language here, but what the eff is this nonsense? To quote my dear partner Emily (whose opinions can also be found on this site), only a straight cis man would come up with a culture in which women who are best friends take an oath to act like biological sisters and that includes “not letting a man come to one without the other.” I’m not against the concept of polyamorous cultures at all, but I am against the compulsive heterosexuality this implies, as well as the implication that this only goes one way. I will revise this opinion if we later learn that there are also equivalent first-brother relationships and perhaps see some non-heterosexual version of such couplings, but as I’m understanding it right now… yeah. No.

The way it is phrased here makes it sound like if a man sleeps with one first-sister, then he must sleep with the other one, not that the two women are partners who sometimes add a third in the bedroom. Egwene certainly understands it the same way, and the compulsive heterosexuality here is so strong that even the suggestion that Maidens of the Spear “don’t care for men” is put forward as a celibate state, rather than a sapphic one.

On the other hand, I am glad that the Maidens of the Spear do have some sexual agency, and are not required to remain celibate when they are wedded to the spear. While it is problematic that they are forced to choose between families and the warrior life in a way that men do not seem to be, I’ll take what we can get at this point. But seriously Jordan, if you’re telling me that these women are speaking bonding oaths in front of the ruling orders of their septs and it’s not because they’re marrying each other, I do not believe you. That is not how ladies work, my man.

I suppose that this idea of first-sisters-by-oath is setting us up for Rand having three ladies in his life, as Min has seen in her viewings. Clearly the biggest pull for the Dragon in a polyamorous relationship is the Pattern deciding what bonds he needs with people in order for things to go the way the Wheel Wants to Weave. And while polyamory that is (or at least appears to only be) for men having multiple female partners is never going to be non-problematic, one of the reasons people engage in polyamory is because they get different things from different people, different roles or different energies or what have you. I can certainly see how being partnered to the Dragon himself would be a bit much, and Elayne (who will have her kingdom to rule) and Min (a very independent sort) and whoever else ends up stuck to him might need a break from that now and again. being able to trade off with one of the other ladies might be a welcome relief. Still, I feel like introducing this concept as part of Aiel culture is a way of “legitimizing” the unconventional relationship in a very hand-wavy sort of way, rather than giving it more depth of thought.

Still, this is a lot of supposition about something that hasn’t come about yet, so I’ll have to wait and see if my worries are correct or if Jordan surprises me.

Anyway, getting back to the Aiel, there are two really big reveals here about their culture that are incredibly important. The first is their ties to the Aes Sedai. Aviendha tells Elayne and Egwene that it is said that the Aiel served the Aes Sedai before the Breaking of the World, and suggests that some failure in that service may be the reason for their banishment to the Waste, although no one remembers for sure. This is the missing piece I’ve been waiting for, the start of an explanation for why the Aiel see themselves as exiles being punished for something. One assumes that the Aiel were the original warriors in service to the Aes Sedai, perhaps in some capacity similar to Warders, or perhaps as guards or an army. When Lews Therin led his company to seal the Dark One back in his prison, the Aiel either went with him when they shouldn’t have, or didn’t go when they should have, and received some of the blame for what happened with the taint and the subsequent Breaking. It makes sense, then, that their prophecies would surround the return of the Dragon; maybe they’re like a living version of the oathbreakers in The Lord of the Rings, whom Isildur cursed to wait in the Paths of the Dead until they could fulfill their oath to him by following Aragorn into battle against Sauron. Now that the Dragon has returned, they can serve him correctly and make up for the error of their forebears.

The other mention here that seems important is Elayne stating that Rand “looks like pictures [she has] seen of Tigraine.” Tigraine has come up a few times in the books thus far, although I admit I had to look back through the glossaries and relevant chapters to remember who she was.

She first comes up in Chapter 34 of The Eye of the World, when Rand and Mat are riding in Bunt’s cart into Caemlyn, and he’s chattering away about Morgase. He mentions that “Tigraine vanished—run off or dead—when it came time for her to take the throne.” I had forgotten the fact that Morgase did not take the throne from her own mother, the way Elayne will (barring political upheaval, anyway), and how we were given that first glimpse into the story of the fight for the throne, the chopping down of “the Tree” and the Aiel war. The name Taringail Damodred came up then, too; father of Galad (whose mother was Tigraine) as well as Elayne and Gawyn. I think it’s very significant that no one knows if Tigraine died or not, and also that Elayne is so quick to dismiss the possibility of Tigraine being Rand’s mother, despite seeing so much similarity between their appearances.

Of course, that coincidence would seem extreme from her point of view; it’s less of a problem for those of us sitting back and watching all the threads come together from our high vantage point as readers. I feel like there are still some pieces missing, but I’m going to do the best I can to put together the whole picture here. Tigraine was the Daughter-Heir of Andor, whom Rand looks a lot like, which implies that Tigraine also looked like an Aiel. At the same time she was alive in Andor, there was an otherwise unprecedented peace between the Aiel and Cairhien which allowed the Cairhien to travel the Waste unmolested, and a sapling of Avendesora was growing in Cairhien after being given as a gift by the Aiel long ago. The Cairhien don’t remember what these signified, however.

I can’t quite figure out what the connection is here between Cairhien’s unique relationship with the Aiel and the fact that a Daughter-Heir of Andor appears to have had Aiel blood, but there must be one. In short order her brother goes missing in the Blight, Tigraine disappears, and during the ensuing conflicts over succession to the throne of Andor, the king of Cairhien, Laman, cut down the tree. Maybe he was trying to take over Andor and make it part of his own kingdom? We know there is frequent conflict between the two countries so it would make sense, and such goals would be as obvious a reason as any to make yourself a super special fancy throne. (It’s a power move, like, say, making a throne out of the swords of all your enemies.) A glance through the glossary of The Great Hunt tells me Laman was also a Damodred, so there’s a connection there, and we know Taringail was politically ambitious, since he went and got himself engaged to the Daughter-Heir and then immediately found a new Queen to marry after the first prospect disappeared.

Anyway, if Tigraine did have Aiel blood, she ostensibly could have gone back to join those people, become a Maiden of the Spear, conceived Rand, and not gone for the whole “you have to choose between fighting and being a mom” thing. In which case, props to her, even though it didn’t quite work out.

Whew. Excuse me while I go mop sweat from my brow; this sort of complex map-making is not my strong suit. But I think I have the vague shape of it, although I imagine some of the details are off or just dead wrong.

I also feel like there are other really important things in these chapters that i missed bringing up, but this post is getting long and my brain is fried, so I will leave you with my final thoughts below. Next week we cover three more chapters, 40-42, and catch up again with Mat, Perrin, and Faile.

Final thoughts from my notes:

  • From the beginning of Chapter 37, we see Egwene already thinking/talking more like Moiraine. She’s gonna make a good Aes Sedai.
  • Egwene is getting more stubborn and bloodthirsty than Nynaeve now
  • Egwene’s not the only one who sounds more like an Aes Sedai; Aviendha remarks on how Nynaeve talks like a Wise One.
  • Description of Nynaeve’s Healing “What Nynaeve had done in those few seconds had seemed like weaving four carpets at once while blindfolded.”
  • Why is it called the Dragonwall?
  • Poor Elayne, always the diplomat as she tries to make peace between stubborn Nynaeve and equally stubborn Egwene.
  • Aviendha has an important sounding name. Also, the way she is centered in this narrative makes me think she’s going to be important in the future.
  • Mist seems nice. Where is Bela these days? Still in Tar Valon, I guess?

Sylas K Barrett anticipates looking back on this week’s predictions in a few books and either being very impressed at his accuracy or completely amused by how wrong it all is. Until then, you all can have those emotions instead.

citation

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