Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: An Array of Familiar Foes in Robert Jordan’s The Shadow Rising (Part 2)

It’s week two of reading The Shadow Rising, and the second half of Chapter One focuses on Dain Bornhald and his new, incredibly shady friend. I find Bornhald incredibly frustrating, personally, and I’m quite sure that having to work with Mordeth/Fain aka Ordeith is going to lead to him making some more impulsive decisions and maybe also getting manipulated in a variety of ways. After all, if Ordeith (I’m just going to call him Ordieth, going forward) can manipulate the Lord Captain Commander and his ambitions so easily, he can probably manipulate Bornhald’s dumb revenge scheme easily enough.

I really enjoyed this chapter, even though the Seanchan are back and Suroth makes my skin crawl. For one thing, the narration seems to have tightened up a little in comparison to The Dragon Reborn—the pacing of this first section is similar to that of The Eye of the World and The Great Hunt, which is great. Also, I feel like this chapter really hit the perfect balance between reminding the reader of relevant information while also giving us new and exciting scenes. Even though I’ve been reading the books straight through without a break, I never felt overburdened by repetition of things I remember perfectly well; instead, I was excited to learn what everyone was up to, and to see how these events were sort of concurrent timeline-wise with the end of The Dragon Reborn.

On the north bank the River Taren, Dain Bornhald stands and watches the village across the river, as its inhabitants stand around and listen to Jaret Byar speak. Bornhald feels satisfied that the Children of the Light won’t have any trouble with them, and remembers his father’s advice, that if you let people think there is a chance to fight back then then someone will try it, which will lead to more fighting and killing. But if you put the fear of the Light into people first, and then assure them that they will be safe if they do as they are told, you won’t have any trouble.

He is watching Byar return on the ferry when he approached by Ivon, who informs Bornhald that three of the Tinkers from the caravan they have secured are missing. With a curse, Bornhald follows him into the trees, past a pile of dead mastiffs, the Tinker’s guard dogs, which Bornhald had his men kill, even though Tinkers never participate in violence and the dogs had been “mostly for show.”

Six men were all he had thought necessary to watch Tinkers. Even with stiff faces, they looked embarrassed. None glanced at the seventh man sitting a horse near the wagons, a bony little man with a big nose, in a dark gray coat that looked too big for him despite the fineness of its cut. Farran, a bearded boulder of a man yet light on his feet for all his height and width, stood glaring at all seven equally. The hundredman pressed a gauntleted hand to his heart in salute but left all talking to Bornhald.

“A word with you, Master Ordeith,” Bornhald said quietly. The bony man cocked his head, looking at Bornhald for a long moment before dismounting. Farran growled, but Bornhald kept his voice low. “Three of the Tinkers cannot be found, Master Ordeith. Did you perhaps put your own suggestion into practice?” The first words out of Ordeith’s mouth when he saw the Tinkers had been “Kill them. They’re of no use.” Bornhald had killed his share of men, but he had never matched the casualness with which the little man had spoken.

Ordeith rubbed a finger along the side of his large nose. “Now, why would I be killing them? And after you ripped me so for just suggesting it.” His Lugarder accent was heavy today; it came and went without him seeming to notice, another thing about the man that disturbed Bornhald.

Ordeith does admit that he took three of the Tinkers off into the woods to “see what they knew,” and who would have thought they’d have the guts to sneak away after?

Bornhald struggles to keep his frustration in check. He’s been ordered to cooperate with Ordeith by Lord Captain Commander Pedron Niall, although the details of the man’s position, and even who he is, have been left vague, as have the reasons he’s been ordered to take half a legion onto Andoran soil without permission. Bornhald doesn’t like Ordeith, but since he has his own reasons—revenge against Perrin Aybara for the murder of his father—he will put up with the unpleasant, suspicious man and the surly group of Children he brought with him.

They argue a little about whether of not Caemlyn will care about this invasion of what is technically their borders, and then Byar arrives to announce that the village has been subdued, and Bornhald gives the order for the crossing.

“We will scour the Two Rivers,” Ordeith broke in. His narrow face was twisted; saliva bubbled at his lips. “We will flog them, and flay them, and sear their souls! I promised him! He’ll come to me, now! He will come!”

Bornhald nodded for Byar and Farran to carry out his commands. A madman, he thought. The Lord Captain Commander has tied me to a madman. But at least I will find my path to Perrin of the Two Rivers. Whatever it takes, I will avenge my father!

Quite far from there, the High Lady Suroth stands on a terrace and looks out across a harbor and the Aryth Ocean. Attended by servants in sheer robes as she taps her long nails on the balustrade, she doesn’t see them any more than she would see furniture, but she is more aware of the the six Deathwatch Guards nearby.

She had worked something of a miracle in rallying most of the Seanchan forces after the debacle the High Lord Turak had led them to. All but a handful of the vessels that had escaped from Falme lay under her control, and no one questioned her right to command the Hailene, the Forerunners. If her miracle held, no one on the mainland suspected they were here. Waiting to take back the lands the Empress had sent them to reclaim, waiting to achieve the Corenne, the Return. Her agents already scouted the way. There would be no need to return to the Court of the Nine Moons and apologize to the Empress for a failure not even hers.

Now, in control of the forces and a set of Sea Folk islands, Suroth must retake the lands that “had been lost a thousand years ago,” lest she face the consequences of that failure. And to do that, she must deal with the man who claims to be the Dragon Reborn. She goes back inside two find three women waiting where she had left them, two sul’dam kneeling, and one damane, prostrate on the floor. One of the sul’dam, Alwhin, Suroth has a particular distaste for. Alwhin, is the only sul’dam ever raised to a Voice of the Blood.

Suroth doesn’t trust any sul’dam anymore, but she has no choice, since only sul’dam can control damane, upon whose abilities the very power of the Seanchan is built. She turns her attention to the woman on the floor, who was once an Aes Sedai but is now a damane called Pura.

Suroth asks Pura, not for the first time, how the White Tower is controlling the false Dragon, and Pura nervously insists that the Tower would never do such a thing, that they would capture the man and gentle him. Suroth rephrases the question, asking what Pura knows of Aes Sedai aiding this man, reminding the former Aes Sedai that he can channel, and that women channeling the Power fought Seanchan soldiers at Falme. Pura, clearly terrified and desperate to be believed, replies that she does not know, even after the other sul’dam, Taisa, delivers a blow through the a’dam at her neck.

“P-Pura does not kn-know.” The damane stretched out a hesitant hand as though to touch Suroth’s foot. “Please. Pura has learned to obey. Pura speaks only the truth. Please do not punish Pura.”

Suroth stepped back smoothly, letting none of her irritation show. That she should be forced to move by a damane. That she could almost be touched by one who could channel. She felt a need to bathe, as if the touch had actually landed.

Taisa’s dark eyes bulged in outrage at the damane’s effrontery; her cheeks were scarlet with shame that this should happen while she wore the woman’s bracelet. She seemed torn between prostrating herself beside the damane to beg forgiveness and punishing the woman then and there. Alwhin stared a thin-lipped contempt, every line of her face saying that such things did not happen when she wore a bracelet.

Suroth raises one finger in a small gesture. Anyone born so’jhin—a Hereditary servant of the Blood—would have been trained from birth to recognize such a gesture, but it takes Alwhin a moment. Then she rounds on Taisa and orders her to remove the “creature” from the High Lady’s presence, then starts giving instructions for Taisa to first punish the damane and then to go admit to her own shortcomings and receive punishment in return. But Suroth isn’t listening; such discussions are beneath her notice, and she’s too busy in any case, trying to decide whether or not Pura is lying to her. She has heard that the women of the White Tower cannot lie, and they have tested it and found that no amount of punishment could force Pura to tell an outright lie, such as to say that a white scarf is black. But Suroth knows that it is still possible that Pura is being clever, holding something back behind a feigned inability to lie. After all, none of the captured Aes Sedai are as trustworthy as the damane brought from Seanchan—they do not truly accept what they are.

Suroth wishes she had the other Aes Sedai who was captured on Toman Head to compare answers with, but she has no idea if that woman is even alive, or if she was taken back to Seanchan. A few of the ships she was unable to gather after Falme must have made it back across the ocean, perhaps carrying the other Aes Sedai. Perhaps carrying news, too.

Suroth has since sent her own ship, full of careful reports and sailors certain to be loyal to Suroth’s family, back to inform the Empress of her doings. So the Empress knows what happened at Falme and Suroth’s intentions to go on, but Suroth has no idea what the Empress might think of the information.

Yet the Empress did not know everything. The worst could not be entrusted to any messenger, no matter how loyal. It would only be passed from Suroth’s lips directly to the ear of the Empress, and Suroth had taken pains to keep it so. Only four still lived who knew the secret, and two of those would never speak of it to anyone, not of their own volition. Only three deaths can hold it more tightly.

Suroth did not realize she had murmured the last aloud until Alwhin said, “And yet the High Lady needs all three alive.” The woman had a properly humble suppleness to her stance, even to the trick of downcast eyes that still managed to watch for any sign from Suroth. Her voice was humble, too. “Who can say, High Lady, what the Empress—may she live forever!—might do if she learned of an attempt to keep such knowledge from her?”

Suroth makes the dismissing gesture again and Alwhin, visibly reluctant, departs. Suroth makes herself find calm—no member of the Blood survives long without patience, after all. She goes back out to the terrace, all the servants still waiting, and looks out over the sea again.

To be the one who successfully led the Forerunners, who began the Return, would bring much honor. Perhaps even adoption into the family of the Empress, though that was an honor not without complications. To also be the one who captured this Dragon, whether false or real, along with the means of controlling his incredible power ….

But if—when I take him, do I give him to the Empress? That is the question.

Her long nails began to click again on the wide stone rail.

 

There is a certain parallel between the section with the Whitecloaks and the section with Suroth and the Seanchan. In both cases, we are dealing with people who exist in a very regimented and hierarchical societies (well, the Whitecloaks are a military organization, but being Children of the Light is their whole life, they don’t belong to other nations or places outside of the organization.) Both Bornhald and Suroth reflect on bits of wisdom that they have gleaned from others on how to control people, with Bornhald remembering his father’s advice and Suroth focusing always on what people of her status—the Blood—must do to maintain their positions, such as have a great deal of patience, and be aware of the precariousness of their position. She even remembers the saying about it, “On the heights, the paths are paved with daggers.”

But while Suroth has an abundance of patience, Bornhald doesn’t seem to have as much, although he’s doing his best to accommodate Ordeith, as he was ordered. I suppose I might be being to hard on Bornhald because I know the whole story behind Bornhald Sr’s death, while Bornahld is relying on second-hand information from someone who didn’t understand most of what was going on. The real person who is causing problems, of course, is Byar. He’s the one who got obsessed with Perrin in the first place, and the one who brought the news of Bornhald Sr.’s death and claimed it was Perrin’s fault.

Putting myself in Byar’s shoes for a moment, I suppose it makes sense that he’d get a little amped up about the wolf attack, and Perrin did show his hand by responding so profoundly to Hopper’s death. That Byar would be convinced that Perrin is a Darkfriend makes sense, but he became so focused on it that he’s now decided that Bornhald Sr.’s death must have been specifically Perrin’s fault somehow, even though Bornhald Sr. had previously told Byar not to be so overzealous and jump to conclusions. Byar was very loyal to his Lord Captain, and I wonder if he isn’t deflecting some of his own anger and guilt at being sent away, unable to participate in the battle that killed Bornhald Sr. Focusing the blame onto the one man Byar already had a vendetta against is probably a great way of redirecting his feelings. And now he’s passed those feelings on to Dain.

All this would be bad enough for the Two Rivers, but of course we also have Ordeith and his vendetta against Rand for not showing up in Falme. That the two should come together in this way is not surprising, narratively speaking. Ordeith made this promise an entire book ago, and we readers have Egwene’s Dreams of Whitecloaks coming to her home to warn us, even if she dismissed them as ordinary nightmares. Perrin also had a few such glimpses, if memory serves.

What is interesting about these antagonists, though, is how personal their motivations are. In Bornhald’s case, it’s revenge for the death of a loved one, which is about as personal as motivations can be, and Ordeith hates Rand because the Shadow made him a Hound to hunt Rand. It’s not like he knows Rand is the Dragon Reborn, and he probably wouldn’t even care if he did. Ordeith is just bound up in his own Mordeth-born malice and the pain Fain experienced as a Darkfriend; he wants to hurt people and lash out, and maybe also manipulate himself into a position of power, somewhere in between murders.

I suppose the contrast between him and Bornhald is a good setup, and might be relevant going forward. Although Bornhald is brutal in his own way—as is the entire organization—he doesn’t go for completely senseless violence, as we see from his reflections on his father’s teachings as well as from his response to Ordeith’s suggestion to kill all the Tinkers. Still, how well will that slight reserve hold when faced with finding Perrin’s people and Perrin’s family… but no Perrin? Will he care about restraining Ordeith’s hand then? Will he be driven, either by Ordeith’s temptation or just his own hunger for revenge, into greater brutality? Only time will tell, but I don’t have a particular lot of hope for him, however reluctant he currently is to collaborate with Ordetih.

Although now that I think about it, Verin and the girls encountered Whitecloaks, including Bornhald Jr, on their way back to Tar Valon after Falme, and Bornhald claimed that Byar told him that the Aes Sedai killed his father. Wonder if the story has changed, or if the rationale is that the Aes Sedai who fought at Falme (Byar took the damane for Aes Sedai) are certainly Darkfriends, and there with one and the same as the mysterious blacksmith who talks to wolves.

And I mean, I said that thing about senseless violence but he did have all those dogs killed. And yes, killing animals is not the same as killing people, but it’s certainly not a narrative moment designed to endear us to him. He knew the dogs were basically just show! He knows, too, that the Tinkers are non-violent, and I think the slaughter of their pets shows just how much disdain the Whitecloaks have for them as a people.

As far as the plot goes, I wonder if the presence of the Tinker caravan in this section will be relevant to what happens in later chapters, or if they’re just here to be Ordeith and Bornhald’s “kick-the-dog” moment, so to speak—to remind us of how evil they both are. But the three Tinkers Ordeith questioned did escape (you know, unless he did something else with them and is lying about it) so maybe they’ll be important. Perhaps they will carry word to someone about what’s happening in this neglected part of the world? And it also makes sense to have Tinkers around when someone’s going after Perrin’s home, since there has been such an important thematic connection between them. The killing of the mastiffs even reminds me of the Whitecloaks killing Hopper, and it brings back that suggestion of how much disdain these so-called “Children of the Light” have for so many of the beings around them. It’s different than Perrin’s conflict with the Way of the Leaf, which is more about moral responsibility and the ways in which evil can or should be fought.

Not much else to say about Ordeith yet, but boy are there things to say about Suroth. She’s just cold as ice, that one, very much the same as my impression of her from The Great Hunt, when Liandrin attempted to deliver Nynaeve, Elayne, and Egwene into her hands. And of course that encounter told us that she is also a Darkfriend, although it doesn’t come up in this section.

What does come up is how much more the Seanchan were able to rally after Falme than was indicated in the description of that battle. I was expecting them to come back, of course, but no one else is, as we saw from Siuan’s dismissive comments after Min mentioned seeing a vision of the a’dam around the neck of one of the Aes Sedai in the Tower. And indeed, it seems like everyone has forgotten about those mysterious conquerors who showed up so unexpectedly, were involved in that crazy battle at Flame, and were possibly the armies of Artur Hawkwing returned from across the sea. But the Seanchan apparently have very long memories, and have never forgotten that there was a Return promised to their people. And now we know that the duty of leading that Return, both its honors and its dangers, have fallen on Suroth.

And then of course, there’s poor Ryma, who is now called Pura by her Seanchan captors, and whose real name Egwene once promised to remember back when she, too, was imprisoned by the collar. Although Suroth can’t be sure if Ryma has some bit of strength left to resist her, we the readers know that she’s not lying here, both because of the Three Oaths and because we know that most Aes Sedai also believe that the Tower would gentle Rand. Ryma doesn’t know that he’s the real Dragon, and even if he was most of the Tower would still want to gentle him. That’s why Siuan is on such thin ice.

Plus we know what Ryma said to Egwene, that she was so close to giving in completely. I don’t know if it’s too much to hope that she might get rescued at this point, but… yeah I really want her to get rescued.

I loved the little detail about Suroth’s love of animals, and the paintings she commissioned for her screens, despite the fact that they are considered vulgar. Most of the other information about her that we’ve been given teaches us about how Seanchan society works, but this is one little element that tells us who Suroth actually is, under all that Seanchan rigidity. I imagine it’s difficult to have much of a personality in Seanchan society—its extreme stratification and focus on one’s place and purpose makes your identity much more about what you are—damane or sul’dam, so’jhin or of the Blood—than who you are as a person.

I had forgotten that we met Alwhin before, although I was briefly confused when we met Ailhuin Guenna back in The Dragon Reborn, because I felt like I recognized the name. In any case, Alwhin was the sul’dam who taunted Egwene so viciously after she was first captured, who seemed irked that she had not been able to secure a prisoner of her own that day and seemed to think she could do a better job of Egwene’s training than Renna was. I suppose that’s the knowledge that Alwhin has, which gives her a little bit of control, or at least an edge, over Suroth. The narration doesn’t say who raised Alwhin to the so’jhin, but I assume it’s something Suroth just did post Falme. It will be interesting to see where Alwhin goes from here, and how their dynamic develops.

I had already gleaned that much of the power of the Seanchan is built on the fact that they have damane, that they have subjugated those women who were born with the spark , who started channeling on their own without being first prompted by teaching. And as we know from Nynaeve and Egwene turning the tables on Renna and Seta (and most or all of the Seanchan don’t realize) the sul’dam, women who can learn to control the a’dam from the other end, are women with the ability to channel but who would never touch the power on their own without instruction. Makes you wonder what would happen if that fact became commonly known, though.

And now Suroth’s attention has turned also to Rand, and to the question if he is really the Dragon Reborn or not. I have no idea how she would go about capturing such a man—I suppose a large group of powerful damane might be able to subdue him, just as a large group of Aes Sedai might—or what the Seanchan might do with the Dragon Reborn once they caught him. Suroth seems to be fantasizing about a way to control him, which seems silly but I guess makes sense for a Seanchan perspective. That’s what the Power in women is to them, and although they just kill those men who exhibit the spark, I’m sure they’d love a chance to put them to more constructive use.

Next week we move on to Chapter Two, which is really a fantastic chapter, and does some really cool stuff with the Pattern and the Power. We get to catch up with Perrin and Faile, Mat and his cards, and Thom. We may or may not make it to Rand and Berelain—the second chapter is almost as long as the first, and more dramatic.

Until then, I wish you all a very lovely week.

Sylas K Barret is on vacation this week, and will be soaking up the sun while he does his reading for the upcoming posts!

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