Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: Death, Love, and Fate in Robert Jordan’s The Shadow Rising (Part 1)

Hello hello, and welcome back to Reading the Wheel of Time. This week is the very first week of the fourth book in the series, The Shadow Rising, and I am tremendously excited about it. Chapter one manages to hit a really good stride where it simultaneously repeats all the information readers might need to be reminded of since they read The Dragon Reborn, but also gives us lots of new information in each section. The narrative is tight and exciting, and it serves as a pretty good reminder of everything I love about the series so far.

The title of chapter one is “Seeds of Shadow” and it is so long that I had to break this post up into two and I am sorry but everything in the Min and Amyrlin section seemed so important and I had to cover it all. So this week will be “Min and the Amyrlin” and next week will be “What All of Rand’s Enemies Are Up To.”

But before that, we gotta have another beginning that isn’t the Beginning, and another wind springing up somewhere because that’s how these books roll.

This time, the wind rises over the plain called the Caralain Grass. It passes Dragonmount and flows down to Tar Valon, where the Ogier-made buildings seem to grow out of the ground, rather than having been built, and the White Tower gleams at the center of the square where crowds of people mill about their business and a few approach the broad stairs leading up to the open doors of the Tower. These are petitioners, those with problems or questions they hope the Aes Sedai can answer. And among them, her cloak drawn up to hide her face, is Min.

Uncomfortably disguised by wearing a dress, Min is doing her best to act and stand like the other women she sees as she climbs the stairs and steps into the entry hall, where all the petitioners—mostly women—huddle nervously, waiting to be spoken to by the Accepted traversing the hall.

She wondered what these people would do if they knew what she knew. Run screaming, perhaps. And if they knew her reason for being here, she might not survive to be taken up by the Tower guards and thrown into a cell. She did have friends in the Tower, but none with power or influence. If her purpose was discovered, it was much less likely that they could help her than that she would pull them to the gallows or the headsman behind her. That was saying she lived to be tried, of course; more likely her mouth would be stopped permanently long before a trial.

She told herself to stop thinking like that. I’ll make it in, and I’ll make it out. The Light burn Rand al’Thor for getting me into this!

Min is approached by an Accepted who introduces herself as Faolain. Min has actually met her once before, briefly, but Faolain doesn’t recognize her as Min lowers her head and respectfully explains that she has a question for the Amyrlin Seat. Suddenly, however, she catches sight of three Aes Sedai entering the hall, startling all the petitioners. Many of the visitors look scared or in awe, clumsily bowing and curtsying, a few even falling to their knees, but Min is struck for a very different reason. Her ability to see images and auras around people always shows her things around Aes Sedai, but the things she sees now are particularly gruesome. Blood, a skull, and a sickly halo cover the women, and although Min doesn’t always know what her visions mean, she knows this time—all three Aes Sedai are going to die on the same day.

Faolain speaking draws Min’s attention back, as she explains that the Amyrlin cannot see everyone, and that her next public audience is not for ten days. She insists instead that if Min explains her problem, she will be brought to the sister who can best help her. But Min is adamant, invoking the right of every woman to speak to the Amyrlin Seat, despite Faolain’s continued insistence that the Amyrlin is far too busy to see everyone. She gives her full name, Elmindreda, knowing that the Amyrlin is one of the few people who has ever heard it, and so it will mean something to her and not to Faolain or any of the other Aes Sedai. Eventually Faolain relents, and sends word to the Keeper of the Chronicles.

As Min waits, she catches sight of Sheriam, the Mistress of Novices, who seems to have bars floating in front of her eyes, and her face looks battered and bruised. Min is careful not to be seen by the woman, who would surely recognize her. A novice named Sahra arrives to take her to the Amyrlin, and every Aes Sedai they pass, even some of the servants, show Min images of violence and death. Sahra takes her discomfort as nerves about meeting the Amyrlin, and tries to comfort her, as Min struggles to keep pretending to be a stranger and not run ahead.

As they reach the Amyrlin’s door, however, the run into Gawyn, who is just leaving her chambers. He recognizes Min instantly, of course, and through him she learns that Elayne, Egwene, and Nynaeve have gone missing again. The Amyrlin claims they have been sent to do work on a farm as punishment for running away, but Gawyn does not believe it. Min finds herself glad that her friends aren’t in the tower, as her vision shows her that Gawyn, too, is going to be injured on the same day as the others she’s seen visions of.

She tries to reassure Gawyn, pointing out that if Elayne really is on a farm, she wouldn’t want him to know about it, and that pestering the Amyrlin won’t help in any case. Gawyn insists that it doesn’t make sense for it to be so secret, and that he can’t protect Elayne if he doesn’t know where she is. He mentions her “playing” at being Aes Sedai, and that she is not just his sister but also his future Queen, and Andor needs her.

Playing at being Aes Sedai? Apparently he did not realize the extent of his sister’s talent. The Daughter-Heirs of Andor had been sent to the Tower to train for as long as there had been an Andor, but Elayne was the first to have enough talent to be raised to Aes Sedai, and a powerful Aes Sedai at that. Very likely he also did not know Egwene was just as strong.

“So you will protect her whether she wants it or not?” She said it in a flat voice meant to let him know he was making a mistake, but he missed the warning and nodded agreement.

“That has been my duty since the day she was born. My blood shed before hers; my life given before hers. I took that oath when I could barely see over the side of her cradle; Gareth Bryne had to explain to me what it meant. I won’t break it now. Andor needs her more than it needs me.”

She notes his particular interest in Egwene’s safety as well, which Gawyn tries unsuccessfully to brush off. He also mentions that Galad is heartsick that Egwene is gone. They arrange to meet later, after Min is done speaking with the Amyrlin, in the practice yards where Gawyn is every day, learning swordplay. Min reminds him again not to make the Amyrlin angry with him, but he will not promise it. There is too much trouble brewing in the world, wars and rumors of the Dragon’s return, and he suggests, although doesn’t say, that the Tower is involved.

He scowled, and for an instant his face was that bloody mask again. More: a sword floated above his head, and a banner waved behind it. The long-hilted sword, like those most Warders used, had a heron engraved on its slightly curved blade, symbol of a blademaster, and Min could not say whether it belonged to Gawyn or threatened him. The banner bore Gawyn’s sigil of the charging White Boar, but on a field of green rather than the red of Andor. Both sword and banner faded with the blood.

“Be careful, Gawyn.” She meant it two ways. Careful of what he said, and careful in a way she could not explain, even to herself. “You must be very careful.”

Gawyn leaves then, and Min notes that Sahra is quite smitten with him, and will no doubt gossip about this encounter to all of her friends. Still, there’s nothing to be done about it. Sahra takes her into the chambers and introduces her to Leane, who recognizes Min immediately despite her attempts to hide in her hood.

“So you are Elmindreda, are you?” Leane said briskly. She was always brisk. “I must say you look it more in that dress than in your usual … garb.”

“Just Min, Leane Sedai, if you please.” Min managed to keep her face straight, but it was difficult not to glare. The Keeper’s voice had held too much amusement. If her mother had had to name her after someone in a story, why did it have to be a woman who seemed to spend most of her time sighing at men, when she was not inspiring them to compose songs about her eyes, or her smile?

“Very well. Min. I’ll not ask where you’ve been, nor why you’ve come back in a dress, apparently wanting to ask a question of the Amyrlin. Not now, at least.” Her face said she meant to ask later, though, and get answers. “I suppose the Mother knows who Elmindreda is? Of course. I should have known that when she said to send you straight in, and alone. The Light alone knows why she puts up with you.” She broke off with a concerned frown. “What is the matter, girl? Are you ill?”

Min, who has just seen a transparent, screaming mask of Leane’s face over her real one, does her best to school her features and asks to go in. Leane tells her to go, and Min hurries into the inner chamber, where she sees the decadent architecture from days gone by and simple furnishings that Siuan Sanche uses. Min tries to curtsy, not knowing how since she would normally be wearing boys’ clothing and making a bow instead.

Halfway down, with her skirts already spread, she froze like a crouching toad. Siuan Sanche was standing there as regal as any queen, and for a moment she was also lying on the floor, naked. Aside from her being in only her skin, there was something odd about the image, but it vanished before Min could say what. It was as strong a viewing as she had ever seen, and she had no idea what it meant.

The Amyrlin observes that Min is seeing things, and has her explain everything. Min tries to impress upon the Amyrlin the inevitability of a battle in Tar Valon, but the Amyrlin counters that she is only guessing at this part, that she doesn’t even know when this event is going to take place. Min is frustrated that the Amyrlin doesn’t understand that her visions are inevitable, as Moiraine has come to understand, and warns that she saw one Aes Sedai wearing a collar like the ones the Seanchan use, but the Amyrlin isn’t concerned about the Seanchan—she suspects the danger comes from the Black Ajah.

Min is shocked; Aes Sedai never brook even the suggestion of a hidden Ajah devoted to serving the Dark One, but the Amyrlin continues on, asking for the reason behind Min’s return. Reeling from the terrifying news about the Black Ajah, Min delivers the news that Rand has left, without Moiraine’s permission, and is on his way to Tear to retrieve Callandor, may even already have done so. The Amyrlin is frustrated at the news, and she and Min discuss how prophecies work, and how they are not there to tell Rand what to do, but rather to prove to the world the identity of the Dragon Reborn. She admits that she and Moiraine intended to guide him to the prophecies that they could be sure of, and tells Min off for objecting to their intention to control him.

“… Do you think we could trust to the Pattern, to his destiny, to keep him alive, like some story? This isn’t a story, he isn’t some invincible hero, and if his thread is snipped out of the Pattern, the Wheel of Time won’t notice his going, and the Creator will produce no miracles to save us. If Moiraine cannot reef his sails, he very well may get himself killed, and where are we then? Where is the world? The Dark One’s prison is failing. He will touch the world again; it is only a matter of time. If Rand al’Thor is not there to face him in the Last Battle, if the headstrong young fool gets himself killed first, the world is doomed…”

The Amyrlin also picks up on Min’s feelings for Rand, and Min admits the vision she had the first time she saw Rand, three women’s face, one of which was her own, and she knew that she was going to fall in love with him—as would the other two, although their faces were too blurred for Min to know who they were.

Having delivered her message, Min asks if she can go, but the Amyrlin denies her. She has other plans for Min… or rather, for Elmindreda. She decides the dresses won’t be enough to disguise Min from those who may have seen her in the Tower before, and decides curled hair and makeup will complete the image of Elmindreda, a young woman seeking sanctuary while she decides between two suitors. Min is horrified, but of course she has no choice.

Unbeknownst to the Amyrlin, however, there is someone besides Sahra and Gawyn who know of Min’s arrival—Elaida. The red sister saw Min enter the Amyrlin’s chamber and recognized her, knows that she had spent much time with the Amyrlin in the past and that she is a friend of Egwene, Nyenave and Elayne. And Elaida is furious with the Amyrlin for sending Elayne away where Elaida cannot find her.

Elaida possesses the ability of Foretelling, and her very first foretelling had been that the royal line of Andor would be the key to defeating the Dark One in the Last Battle. She’d kept the information to herself, and attached herself to Morgase as soon as it became clear that Morgase would be the next to hold the throne, at the expense of all other ambitions. She thinks that she could have been Amyrlin herself if her focus had been elsewhere, and now all her sacrifices are in danger of meaning nothing because Elayne has disappeared.

But it is more than just Elayne, there is also they mysterious Rand al’Thor, the ta’veren man who had spurred Elaida’s foretelling again, showing her chaos and strife for Andor and maybe the world. She knows Moiraine, who spirited Rand away from Andor before Elaida could question him ,is close with the Amyrlin: no one else seems to remember their close friendship, and how they had suddenly walked away from each other after they were raised to Aes Sedai. Elaida also knows that Siuan has had contact with the other two rumored ta’veren, Matrim Cauthon and Perrin Aybara, and all these details prove to the red sister that the Amyrlin is up to something.

Whatever Siuan was up to, she had to be stopped. Turmoil and chaos multiplied on every side. The Dark One was sure to break free—the very thought made Elaida shiver and wrap her shawl around her more tightly—and the Tower had to be aloof from mundane struggles to face that. The Tower had to be free to pull the strings to make the nations stand together, free of the troubles Rand al’Thor would bring. Somehow, he had to be stopped from destroying Andor.

She had told no one what she knew of al’Thor. She meant to deal with him quietly, if possible. The Hall of the Tower already spoke of watching, even guiding, these ta’veren; they would never agree to dispose of them, of the one in particular, as he must be disposed of. For the good of the Tower. For the good of the world.

The sudden thought that perhaps Rand al’Thor could also be a man who could channel stops Elaida in her tracks, or even one of the other ta’veren. It’s hard to imagine that even Siuan could be capable of supporting such a thing, but then again, Elaida has no idea what the Amyrlin is capable of.

Another sister, Alviarin of the White Ajah, hears Elaida muttering to herself and interjects over the other’s thoughts. Elaida considers her, knowing that the White and Blue Ajah stand together, but also that the Whites pride themselves at being logical and dispassionate. She asks Alviarin to walk with her and tells her everything she suspects, and while Alviarin points out that Elaida has no proof, Elaida is confident that she has made a beginning.

 

Okay, the way Min sees the deaths of the Aes Sedai is deeply creepy. I suppose I’m not really that surprised by how coolly the Amyrlin responded—Siuan is plenty self-possessed, and she’s not going to let Min see her alarm even if she is alarmed—but I hope she is taking Min’s visions seriously. Tar Valon has withstood so many attacks, and no doubt feels impenetrable even with Min’s gruesome news. And while I’m fairly sure the Amyrlin is right about the Whitecloaks not being a threat, (at least not yet, not at their current level of power) I think she is gravely underestimating the Seanchan. Sure, Rand and co were able to defeat them, but even with the strength of the Heroes of the Horn, Rand still had to destroy Ishamael in order for his forces to be victorious. We know more about their strengths than any character in the story currently does, and of course, there is the last section of this chapter to put the reader on their guard again.

Add to that the fact that the Amyrlin appears to believe that Min’s visions can be averted, while Min knows that they cannot, and we can see that there are some blind spots in Siuan’s vision. There’s also the still unseen danger of Elaida and her suspicions, plus there’s always a good old fashioned attack by the Forsaken—which seems unlikely to come too soon, but certainly isn’t outside the realm of possibility.

I have to wonder about the bars Min sees across Sheriam’s face. The bruises she also anything, really, but I wonder if the bars are less about the coming conflict in the White Tower and more about something Sheriam is currently involved in. I had some questions in The Dragon Reborn about Sheriam’s handling of Egwene and the others, about the way she reacted to the discovery of the Gray Man’s corpse and the reason another one was found in her bed—it feels like there is something else going on with the Mistress of Novices than what we have yet seen, although I don’t know what that would be. But perhaps she is trapped by something, or maybe the bars across her eyes signify blinders, that she cannot or will not see something important that she really needs to see.

And as for Siuan, it might be a bit of a stretch, but the image of her lying naked on the floor reminded me of Egwene’s last trip through the ter’angreal. She saw herself as Amyrlin, and found herself in conflict with Elaida when she refuses to order Rand’s gentling. Elaida orders that Egwene be taken, and then Egwene is struck on the head by Beldeine. When she comes to, she is laid out naked on a table, in preparation for having her will forcibly turned to the Shadow by the thirteen Black Ajah channeling through thirteen Myrddraal.

Although Egwene was certainly herself in this experience, the similarities feel significant to me, especially since this section ends with a bit about Elaida’s suspicions and resentments towards Siuan. Is it possible that this fate lies in store for Siuan? I’m also reminded of the first time we learned about Moiraine and Siuan’s secret plans to find and guide the Dragon Reborn, way back in The Great Hunt (Chapters 4 and 5) when they discussed it at Fal Dara. The Amyrlin mentioned the danger of discovery, especially to her, and that they will both be stilled if their plot is discovered. She then goes on to talk about how “[o]nly twice since the Breaking of the World has the Amyrlin Seat been stripped of stole and staff,” and how an Amyrlin once deposed and stilled is kept around as a servant in the White Tower, to be an example to others.

This shows us that, if Elaida were to decide to unseat Siuan, stilling is definitely a part of that process, and I could see Min’s vision being related to that. Not sure why people have to be naked for these things, but both stilling and the tampering the Black Ajah would do involve interacting with a channeler’s connection to the True Source—either exploiting it or cutting it off. Also, both require the same number of women, thirteen, as we see from the attempted gentling of Rand in Egwene’s ter’angreal experience. So the processes seem to be fairly similar, and Min’s vision might indicate either. That’s my theory, anyway.

It’s hard to imagine what could cause so much death and destruction within the White Tower that even servants, not to mention Warders and Aes Sedai, are going to die. Even Gawyn’s going to suffer injury in whatever happens. I really felt for him in this scene, and I think it’s easy to overlook him when you have Galad around doing his tall, serious, duty-at-all-costs thing. But Gawyn shows us here that his sense of duty is just as strong, even if it does have more room for interpretation and lighthearted moments that Galad’s does. I was really struck by Gawyn’s description of swearing the oath at Elayne’s cradle, even though he was so young himself. It reminded me of Lan, really, and the sense of duty that he carries with him for a kingdom that died when he was still an infant.

It’s interesting to see people like Elayne and her brothers, like Lan, juxtaposed with the Two Rivers folk. They have known who they are, who they were meant to be, for their whole lives. Like the people of Fal Dara, that sense of duty and purpose is woven into them from birth. Meanwhile we have Nynaeve and Egwene and Perrin and Mat, and of course/especially Rand, who find themselves possessed of incredible powers and playing important roles that they could never have dreamed of, and for which they are not at all mentally prepared. Moiraine and the Amyrlin’s frustrations with Rand are understandable, from their point of view, but how could they reasonably expect anything different? How could they think Rand would handle such a change to his sense of identity, the arrival of such a huge and terrifying burden?

Which, I suppose, is kind of the point of the story.

Still, one wonders at what point the new generation will begin to outstrip the plans and understanding of the current one. Moiraine and the Amyrlin still have more knowledge and understanding of the Shadow than Rand, more education and channeling experience than Nynaeve and Egwene and Elayne. But one day Rand will surpass them in knowledge, and of course figure out saidin on his own. Not to mention how to fight the Dark One. And Nynaeve, Elayne and Egwene are already known to be more powerful than any Aes Sedai living… as soon as they can master their potential, that is. But that day will come, and after so long working and planning for this, I think that will be a very strange day for Moiraine and the Amyrlin, and for a lot of other people who have ruled kingdoms or been at the front lines of the fight against the Shadow. Now that the Dragon has arrived, he will pick his own champions and generals, and although I’m sure the older guard will play an important role in everything that is to come, they will find the burden of being the only ones planning, the only ones who know what is going on, shifted from them.

I wonder a lot about what it means in the Prophecy that the Dragon will break the world again. Those who read or hear that prophecy see it as portending certain, inevitable destruction, the kind of Breaking that happened last time. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be the same as what happened after the taint was placed on saidin. Certainly there will be violence and destruction in the Last Battle, but the Dragon’s return may herald change that is just as profound and yet not as terrible for humanity as the last one was. Elayne and Egwene taking charge of Andor and the White Tower, nations abandoning old grudges and alliances alike to follow the Dragon, at least one person figuring out how to wield saidin without losing his mind—these things will change the world forever, without anyone needing to raise a mountain or tear a city down in a taint-blinded fury.

But I digress. Poor, poor Min thought she was going to just walk in, deliver some news to the Amyrlin, and be set free? Honey, you know how these Aes Sedai work.

When it comes to the romances blossoming, I am starting to see what some of the commenters (back when I was still reading the comments) have pointed out in previous weeks, and which has been suggested by the effects Rand left in his wake in Jarra—the role the Pattern may play in who falls in love with whom. Min talks about it here in this chapter, how she barely knows Rand, how she tries to treat the viewing as a joke but knows that it is inevitable. And somehow that knowledge has already bred love inside her, as much as she wanted to resist it. The Pattern, and ta’veren power, is the only thing that really makes sense of such a reaction.

It reminds me of how the novelization of Star Wars Episode III suggested that Anakin and Padme were drawn to each other because the Force pushed them together. And it’s certainly more interesting to have a reason behind these feelings besides a bad fiction trope. But I have to admit, it’s a bit squicky, the show characters having so little control in something so intimate and purpose. No means no, the Pattern. But I guess the Wheel of Time doesn’t operate on a basis of consent. That’s kind of what fate is, I suppose.

In this section, we also get the Amyrlin explaining a bit more about the Prophecies of the Dragon and their purpose. The point that the Prophecies are not meant as guides for the Dragon Reborn but rather as guides for others to identify him is an interesting one. I was kind of getting that impression already, from how Moiraine handled Rand’s decision to go after Callandor and how Rand formed the erroneous idea that claiming Callandor would somehow “end” his struggles. Perhaps he was too caught up in his own doubts over whether or not he actually is the Dragon Reborn, but it also did seem like he thought fulfilling a Prophecy would change something in a drastic way, and there’s no real reason to think so. The Shadow was already convinced of his identity; killing Ishamael may have brought a reprieve, but it’s hardly going to ease the pressure on Rand’s shoulders. Quite the opposite.

And lastly, we have Elaida. She’s worried me since we met her, and I’m really glad that we’ve learned more about her story. I was actually surprised by the revelation that she had a fortelling about Andor being important in the Last Battle, but explains a lot. And proves she’s not a Darkfriend, which had still been up in the air for me. Now that we know that the Black Ajah are real, we know it’s a good thing that Moiraine and Siuan kept their knowledge to themselves, even beyond the danger of some of the other “good” Aes Sedai thinking that even the Dragon must be gentled. However, I’ve been remembering my early comments about the rampant distrust that Aes Sedai have for each other that is due in part to how they are trained, and how that could lead to a lot of problems. Here we have Siuan and Moiraine working one prong of a campaign against the Shadow and Elaida working another, and yet they are also working at cross-purposes to each other, to the detriment of both, especially if Elaida decides that the Amyrlin must be unseated. Of course, she doesn’t know this now, but what the Amyrlin has Elayne doing in the fight against the Black Ajah, not to mention Elayne’s connection with Rand, are probably exactly the reason Andor and its rulers will be so important when Tarmon Gai’don comes. Still, even if she did know the full picture… well, I get the impression Elaida would want to have the Dragon gentled. She is Red Ajah, after all.

Next week we’re going to cover the latter half of chapter one, in which we will catch up with Bornhald Jr and Mordeth-Fain, aka Ordeith, as well as High Lady Suroth, the Seanchan, and a prisoner who was not always called Pura.

Sylas K Barrett struggles a lot with the concept of fate in fiction, but is intrigued to learn more about how the Pattern works.

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