Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: Egwene Questions the Fish and the Bird in Robert Jordan’s The Shadow Rising (Part 7)

Welcome back to our read of The Shadow Rising! This week, (Week 7!) we’re covering Chapters 7 and 8, in which Egwene tries to learn more about saidin, Elayne and Rand talk romantic feelings, and Mat is presented with an new option besides staying or running. And also the High Lords are annoying but that’s to be expected.

The next morning, Egwene and Elayne go to Rand’s room, Elayne dressed in a beautiful, low cut blue silk gown, and Egwene with a plain red scarf around her shoulders like a shawl. They are greeted by the Aiel Stone Dogs, and Egwene tells them that they have come to check on the Dragon’s wounds. Gaul, the leader of the Stone Dogs, tells them that Rand is in a bad mood, and literally threw High Lord Torean out of his room, earlier. Egwene is perplexed by the idea of Rand physically manhandling someone in such a way, and she wonders how much he has changed.

The room has been cleaned up from the night before although Egwene notes that it’s both messy and filled with gaudy furniture and decorations. They find Rand lounging in a chair with a book—he jumps to his feet ready to fight, then scowls when he sees who his visitors are.

Rand asks what they want, and is suspicious that the girls’ claims that they’ve come to help him are really attempts by Moiriane to manipulate and control him. Egwene reminds him of how long they’ve known each other, bringing up childhood memories. Rand falls into banter with her for a moment, but when they tell him they have come to help him with channeling, his suspicions about Moiriane return. He even tries to leave, saying he has to go talk to the High Lords and remind them that he, the Dragon Reborn, rules Tear now. But Elayne pleads that they only came because they care, and Rand reluctantly agrees to try, much to Egwene’s surprise.

She has Rand watch her while she embraces saidar. He reminds her that Moiraine has channeled around him many times and he has not seen or felt anything, but Egwene counters that she is much more powerful, that Moiraine “would be whimpering on the floor, or insensible,” if she tried to hold as much as Egwene is now. But when Egwene weaves Air, Water, and Spirit, the flows used for healing, and reaches out to touch Rand’s injured side, she recoils.

It seemed that all the darkness in the world rested there in Rand’s side, all the world’s evil in a festering sore only lightly covered by tender scar tissue. A thing like that would soak up Healing flows like drops of water on dry sand. How could he bear the pain? Why was he not weeping?

Rand, unaware of what Egwene has just sensed, tells them that all he can feel is goosebumps, and that is only because a woman channeling around him makes him nervous. Egwene tells Rand that she is releasing saidar, but when Elayne quietly embraces the One Power without telling him, Rand’s goosebumps return.

Emboldened by this small discovery, Egwene instructs Rand to “embrace saidin.” When neither she nor Elayne can sense anything, Egwene asks rand if he’s actually touching the True Source and receives a pinch on her backside from an unseen source. Egwene tells him off, that she expects that sort of childishness from Matt, and retaliates with a much harder pinch, making Rand shout and hobble about in pain. She tells him to do something with the Power, something not childish, so that she and Elayne can see if they can sense that.

Hunched, he glared at them. “Do something,” he muttered. “You had no call to—I’ll limp for—You want me to do something?”

To their surprise, both girls are both lifted into the air. Egwene can’t sense any flows of the Power, but she’s angered by Rand’s action and decides to cut him off from the Power, the way they have been doing for Joiya. But when she opens herself to saidar she finds a wall between herself and the Power, and realizes that she is caught and helpless while a man is channeling.

Rand asks if she likes it, as the fire in the hearth flares up, as a statue on the mantle begins to melt and the strands of silver and gold weave themselves into a cloth, as other items around the room begin to float or dance or burst into flame, including Rand’s feather mattress. “Do something” he repeats, and asks if Egwene has any idea what it is like to touch and hold saidin, to feel the madness seeping into him.

Abruptly all the mayhem ceases, and Egwene and Elayne are released. Egwene and Elayne clutch each other and immediately embrace saidar, ready to throw shields around Rand if he even appears to try to channel again.

Rand apologizes, telling them that sometimes saidin runs wild, isn’t there when he reaches for it, or does things he doesn’t expect. He tells them they should probably go, but Egwene replies gently that they aren’t finished yet. She is still angry with him, trying to be kind. She understands that he’s on edge, and she is on edge now as well, having just been shown how much stronger he is than she or Elayne. She reminds him that he agreed to try, and he reluctantly affirms that he did.

They sit in the undamaged chairs beside the window, and Rand promises to only do what they ask, this time. She asks him to describe the process of embracing the Source. Rand counters that it’s more like wrestling than embracing, but Egwene recognizes his description Tam’s flame-and-void concentration technique. Elayne and Egwene disagree about whether or not this sounds similar to what they do, but Rand also disagrees heartily with Egwene, once he hears her explanation of the process of embracing saidar. He tells Egwene that if he surrendered to saidin, even for a minute, that it would consume him. He does, however, experience the same powerful response of feeling more alive, of the world being clearer, sharper, and more real when one is connected to the Power.

They go on to talk about the various ways Rand just channeled, although Rand struggles to understand or explain much of what he did. He is able to describe pulling heat from one flame to start another, and Elayne and Egwene are startled by what Egwene finally sees as a concrete difference between the two types of channeling. Novices are instructed early never to draw heat in.

It was not a matter of strength, so Sheriam had said; heat once taken in could not be gotten rid of, not by the strongest woman ever to come out of the White Tower. Women had actually burst into flame themselves that way. Women had burst into flame. Egwene drew a ragged breath.

“What’s the matter?” Rand asked.

“I think you just proved the difference to me.” She sighed.

Egwene tells Rand that this doesn’t mean that they are giving up, and though he clearly doesn’t believe, he allows her to insist. When he suggests, appearing both relieved and disappointed, that they will be going now, Egwene brings up the other reason they wanted to talk to him.

“Rand, I cannot marry you.”

“I know,” he said.

She blinked. He was not taking it as hard as she expected. She told herself that was good. “I do not mean to hurt you—really, I don’t—but I do not want to marry you.”

“I understand, Egwene. I know what I am. No woman could—”

“You wool-brained idiot!” she snapped. “This had nothing to do with you channeling. I do not love you! At least, not in the way to want to marry you.”

Rand’s jaw dropped. “You don’t … love me?” He sounded as surprised as he looked. And hurt, too.

Egwene explains to him that people change, that her feelings have changed. She still loves him, like a brother or perhaps more than a brother, but not as someone she wants to marry. Rand give her a rueful grin and explains that he has also changed, that he’s relieved that she doesn’t want to marry him either, because he was worried about hurting her. Egwene is impressed with what she sees as his bravery, trying to convince her of this. She tells him he will find someone else, repeating it when he clearly doesn’t believe, and then departs, dropping both saidar and her scarf as soon as she is out of the room.

He was ready for Elayne to pick up like a lost puppy if she handled him the way they had discussed. She thought Elayne would manage him nicely, now and later. For as much later as they had. Something had to be done about his control. She was willing to admit that what she had been told was right—no woman could teach him; fish and birds—but that was not the same as giving up. Something had to be done, so a way had to be found. That horrible wound and the madness were problems for later, but they would be dealt with eventually. Somehow. Everyone said Two Rivers men were stubborn, but they could not match Two Rivers women.

Elayne sits and waits patiently, putting on an outward display of calm composure—though inside she is a nervous wreck—while Rand stares after Egwene, seemingly at a loss or perhaps arguing with her. When he realizes Elayne is still in the room he is flummoxed almost to speechlessness, and stumbles for formal language as he apologizes, calling her “my Lady.” Elayne threatens to call him “Lord Dragon” and curtsey unless he calls her by her name.

Rand does, and when Elayne asks if what Egwene said hurt very much, Rand admits that it did a little, but that he told her the truth about his own feelings, even though she didn’t seem to believe him. Elayne is relieved that she won’t have to contend with Rand trying to hold onto Egwene, and even though her nerves are urging her on, she keeps her composure and the conversation light.

Suddenly, Rand asks if she would like a flower, picking up a handful of feathers from the bed he destroyed earlier. Elayne realizes he means to make one with the power, and reminds herself that for them to work, she must trust him, and agrees. But after a few moments Rand declares that a flower is no fit gift for her, and Elayne can tell that he tried to touch saidin but couldn’t. He offers her the cloth of gold and silk that he made earlier when he was melting the statue, which Elayne diplomatically accepts, although she also gathers up the feathers he tried to change. Rand mistakes her actions for cleaning, not understanding that she wants to keep the feathers because he wanted them to be a flower for her.

Emboldened by his desire to give her a gift, Elayne clumsily asks Rand if he likes her, then clarifies by explaining that she is “more than fond” of him. She doesn’t want to remind him of Berelain, but she tells him that while she is not normally so forward, she knows that she will have to leave Tear soon and couldn’t go without telling him the truth of how she felt. Rand, red-faced and stammering, claims he doesn’t know what to say, and Elayne decides she won’t let Berelain better her, and, stepping close to Rand, asks him to kiss her.

“Kiss you?” he said as if he had never heard of kissing before. “Elayne, I don’t want to promise more than … . I mean, it isn’t as if we were betrothed. Not that I am suggesting we should be. It’s just that … . I am fond of you, Elayne. More than fond. I just do not want you to think I … .”

She had to laugh at him, with all his confused earnestness. “I do not know how things are done in the Two Rivers, but in Caemlyn you don’t wait until you are betrothed before kissing a girl. And it does not mean you must become betrothed, either. But perhaps you do not know how—” His arms went around her almost roughly, and his lips came down on hers. Her head spun; her toes tried to curl up in her slippers. Some time later—she was not certain how long—she realized she was leaning against his chest, knees trembling, trying to gulp air.

“Forgive me for interrupting you,” he said. She was glad to hear a touch of breathlessness in his voice. “I am just a backward shepherd from the Two Rivers.”

“You are uncouth,” she murmured against his shirt, “and you did not shave this morning, but I would not say you are backward.”

He tries to speak, but she tells him not to say anything he doesn’t mean with her whole heart. Reluctantly disentangling herself from his arms, she thinks of Berelain again, and determines to say something about it, albeit obliquely. She reminds Rand that there might be other company when she is gone, but while some women see men only as baubles to be worn and won, Elayne sees with her whole heart. Seeing alarm in his face, she diverts to another subject. He hasn’t told her to stay away from him because of how dangerous he is, and Elayne reminds him not to try. It is too late.

They talk about their earlier encounter, and Rand apologizes for frightening them and losing control, but not for the pinch. That he thinks is fair, given how the two of them were talking over him. In response, Elayne reaches out with saidar to sooth the injury she gave him.

Just then they are interrupted by Gaul, who announces the arrival of the High Lords, and Elayne excuses herself, embarrassed by what the Aielman might think of her. The High Lords move out of her way as she passes, bowing but not concealing their relief that she is leaving.

Looking back, she notes that Rand stands out amongst the High Lords, “like a stork among peacocks,” and yet there is something about his bearing that she recognizes. Rand, she realizes, is a man like Gareth Bryne, someone who could dominate a room in rags without anyone knowing his name. Rand hadn’t been like that when she first met him, but he is now, and while the High Lords might think they only bow to him because he bears the title of Dragon Reborn, Elayne knows that they feel it too

Elayne leaves, serene, despite the trials and search for the Black Ajah that lie in her future. This part, at least, is done, and she doesn’t have to be nervous about it anymore.

Rand stares at the closed doors after Elayne, shocked and wary that part of his dream of her has come true. The High Lords have difficulty getting his attention as he wonders how she could have been so serene and whether she and Egwene had planned the whole thing. But he does not think that women do that, any more than men, and decides that Elayne spoke up because she heard that he was free. Then he drags his attention back to High Lord Sunamon and the others, who are asking why he summoned them.

Rand tells them that he has summoned them to talk about taxes, and the High Lords are quick to offer him suggestions and explanations, telling him that lowering the taxes will cause riots when they are returned to their original rates, that he need have no fear of riots, as the Defenders have put them down before, that there are too many farmers as it is, because of the civil war in Cairhien, and there is too much grain and no one to sell it to.

Half of Rand’s mind is still busy wondering how much of their exchange Elayne and Egwene had planned, struggling with the hurt over Egwene’s change in feelings, and trying to sort out how he feels about Elayne. He likes her, but he likes Min just as much, and he’s spent most of his life pining after Egwene. Still, he tries to focus on the matter at hand, the High Lords who can’t understand the basic ideas of trading that Rand sees so clearly. He orders them to trade with Illian, and to pay Mayene in grain to hire their ships, and perhaps put together a treaty.

“We trade little with Illian, my Lord Dragon. They are vultures, and scum.” Tedosian sounded scandalized, and so did Meilan when he said, “We have always dealt with Mayene from strength, my Lord Dragon. Never with bent knee.”

Rand took a deep breath. The High Lords tensed. It always came to this. He always tried to reason with them, and it always failed. Thom said the High Lords had heads as hard as the Stone, and he was right. What do I feel for her? Dreaming about her. She’s certainly pretty. He was not sure if he meant Elayne or Min. Stop this! A kiss means no more than a kiss. Stop it! Putting women firmly out of his head, he set himself to telling these stone-brained fools what they were going to do. “First, you will cut taxes on farmers by three-quarters, and on everyone else by half. Don’t argue! Just do it! Second, you go to Berelain and ask—ask!—her price for hiring….”

The High Lords listened with false smiles and grinding teeth, but they listened.

Meanwhile, in the hall, Mat falls into step beside Egwene, who, struck by his uncharacteristic silence, asks if the night before was troubling him. He deflects, talking about playing cards, and complaining a little about Egwene always being busy with Elayne, who Mat finds snooty, or with Moiriane, or questioning Darkfriends. Egwene knows he is also unnerved because Egwene is Aes Sedai, or will be.

Eventually, however, she gets him to open up, and Mat admits that he needs advice. Egwene is surprised that he would come to her. He says that he is trying to decide what to do, and Egwene reminds him that he cannot run away.

“You think I don’t know that? I don’t think I could leave if Moiraine told me I could. Believe me, Egwene, I am not going anywhere. I just want to know what’s going to happen.” He gave a rough shake of his head, and his voice grew tighter. “What comes next? What’s in these holes in my memory? There are chunks of my life that aren’t even there; they don’t exist, as if they never happened! Why do I find myself spouting gibberish? People say it’s the Old Tongue, but it’s goose gabble to me. I want to know, Egwene. I have to know, before I go as crazy as Rand.”

“Rand is not crazy,” she said automatically. So Mat was not trying to run away. That was a pleasant surprise; he had not seemed to believe in responsibility. But there was pain and worry in his voice. Mat never worried, or never let anyone see it if he did. “I do not know the answers, Mat,” she said gently. “Perhaps Moiraine—”

Mat dismisses that idea at once, refusing to even consider it, although he wants to know if Egwene has learned anything in the Tower that might help. Because she is different, and she knows him.

In the end, she told him of the ter’angreal, the twisted doorway that held answers on its other side. It was the dangers she emphasized, the consequences of foolish questions, or those touching the Shadow, the dangers even Aes Sedai might not know. She was more than flattered that he had come to her, but he had to show a little sense. “You must remember this, Mat. Frivolous questions can get you killed, so if you do use it, you will have to be serious for a change. And you mustn’t ask any questions that touch the Shadow.”

Mat is incredulous, and dismissive, though Egwene tries to impress both the danger and the veracity of what she’s telling him. She also tells him, however, that he cannot go in without Moiriane’s permission. Mat counters that he’d be a fool to go in without or with Moiriane’s permission, and that no chance is better than this one. He says he’ll go back to playing cards, and promises Egwene again that he’s not going to run away.He’ll go back to playing cards, he supposes.

Before they part, Mat asks Egwene if she ever wishes that none of this had ever happened. She replies no, even with everything that has happened, and Mat agrees. He gets Egwene to promise not to tell Moiraine he was asking for help, and she agrees as long as he promises not to go near the ter’angreal.

“I promise.” He grinned. “I won’t go near that thing unless my life depends on it. I swear.” He finished with mock solemnity.

Egwene shook her head. However much everything else changed, Mat just never would.

 

Mat’s going to touch the thing, isn’t he?

I really enjoyed these chapters. The information about saidin and saidar has been coming in little bits and pieces, the reader learning about the One Power as the Emond’s Fielders do, but at this point in the story there is information that Egwene and Nynaeve learned in their training that hasn’t been included in the narration, so I appreciate getting a bit more caught up. And I’ve also wanted someone to poke at this claim that saidin and saidar are so very different that there is no overlap at all in the way they are used or taught.

Now, I’m sure that as the series continues the explanations for exactly what saidin and saidar are, and exactly how they work, will continue to become more intricate and sophisticated, and that what we’re looking at here in this chapter is still a very base level description compared to what is coming later. And I admit, it’s still a sticking point for me.

Waaay back in the very second post of this reread, I tackled the concept as it was explained then, comparing it to the dynamic of yin and yang from Chinese philosophy, the idea that these two equal opposites create the push/pull that moves the universe. Saidar and saidin create the push/pull that turns the Wheel of Time, spinning out the Pattern, driving Creation, and so saidin and saidar are presented as equal opposites. This makes sense, and it’s a functional world-building choice. But the complete embracing of the stereotypes of masculinity and femininity as it relates to these two coded forces isn’t. It’s not just that saidin embodies concepts normally assigned to masculinity (fire, roughness, strength) and saidar to femininity (water, delicacy, patience)—the very way that the two genders interact with the One Power is a stereotype. Women must surrender, open themselves up to saidar, a passive act in which they are literally described as being filled. Men must reach out and take what they want, they must be strong-willed and aggressive, and force saidin to their will, like breaking a wild horse.

When I was making my notes for this section, I found myself repeating a lot of what Emily Asher-Perrin had to say about gendered power in their re-read of Dune, which makes sense, given the influence that book had on Jordan’s work. In one post, Emily made a point of remarking that Dune’s gender dynamics and politics are outdated by 70s era sci-fi standards. In Dune, men are said to be takers who cannot consider the “giving” part of themselves without changing into something other than men, and vice versa for women. The Kwisatz Haderach is supposed to be a man who has all the abilities of the female Bene Gesserit (by virtue of genetic breeding) but can “look into that place they cannot look” because he’s a man. Which makes no sense. Either the gender rules are true or they are not. If a man can be produced who can have both attributes, why not a woman? And if either is possible, then the gender division is not an absolute the way it is claimed.

This same idea applies to The Wheel of Time in a few ways. We do see examples of the stereotypes being untrue, such as Egwene’s strong affinity for Earth, and may continue to see exceptions to the “usual” divide in strength. I also wonder if we may discover other ways in which saidin and saidar are perhaps not entirely alien to each other. After all, there was a time when men and women worked together to channel, which means they at least developed some common language around the working of weaves. And the Five Powers seem to make up both saidin and saidar equally, despite the different genders’ affinities

As far as Rand is concerned, I remain convinced that it makes no sense for the Dragon to be always male. It would make more sense if the gender of the Dragon to alternate each time they are reborn, even more sense for the Dragon to be able to be able to wield both saidin and saidar, Avatar style, and possibly be a genderqueer or bi-gender person as a result (full disclosure, that was Emily’s idea first, and it’s brilliant).

And sure, we’re just now getting to a point where these are words used (somewhat) frequently in society, but as Emily also pointed out, the very job of science-fiction and fantasy it to be flexible, forward-looking, and creative. Although that doesn’t always play out in reality, so if you don’t want to start bending gender quite yet, another possibility would be that there are two reincarnated saviors, one male and one female. They could be the Dragon and the Phoenix, or something.

And while me suggesting a bunch of concept changes for a story that is already completed seems a little silly, I think that they kind of prove my point. If you actually think about what a gender-binary power system does, world-building wise, it gets pretty woolly pretty quickly. Far better to make your yin-and-yang, your saidar-and-saidin, merely accidents of birth, unrelated to gender, status, or race. If you want saidin and saidar affinities to be based on personality types, you can do that without invoking gender, or rather, biological sex.

Now, I am certainly not the first to comment on the gender dynamics of The Wheel of Time, and I am sure that these themes, including the way that the taint on saidin has resulted in a slightly female-dominated society, have been addressed in depth. But I am struck by this concept that men are considered dangerous because of the taint on sadin, when in fact everything about male channeling is described as being dangerous, aggressive, and menacing. What Rand did to Egwene and Elayne was exacerbated by him being an inexperienced channeler—this is not the first time he has accidentally taken hold of too much saidin and had to vent it somehow—but it is also the result of him lashing out in anger and frustration. While Egwene and Elayne were a bit haughty and dismissive of Rand, talking over him to each other as though he couldn’t understand, he was violent and angry. His reaction didn’t scare them because of the taint, not entirely, and I will be disappointed if that is not thoughtfully addressed in the book.

In our world, the stereotypes of men as aggressive, violent in their anger, and unable to control certain “masculine” urges are deep rooted, but we as a society are beginning to root them out. We are considering the fact that men are socialized to be angry, encouraged towards certain types of violence, certain types of entitlement, while shamed from and denied other types of emotional release, including fear, grief, and vulnerability. And Rand certainly has reason to feel scared and vulnerable, reason for grief, too. But saidin being what it is, we are led back to blaming it for his problems. It’s just too violent and too powerful, and yes he has no one to teach or help him, but we’ve never seen a female channeler in a similar position. She might burst into flame from trying to hold the heat of a candle, but would she ever lash out in such a way and then blame the overwhelming power of saidar for it? There’s nothing in this story so far to say that she would.

And as far as vulnerability goes? Opening, surrendering, and holding a power within yourself is much more vulnerable that reaching out and bending something to your will, even if the later course seems more physically dangerous.

Now, if these problems with saidin were due to the taint, that would be different. An examination of male anger and violence as being brought on by a supernatural force, rather than a societal one, would be fascinating. The narrative could ask questions of what a male channeler was responsible for, and when he is helpless in the face of the taint. I for one am much more interested in watching a protagonist wrestle with the concrete force of violence and anger being thrust upon him than I am in waiting to see him become overtaken with a non-specific “taint madness.”

However, I did say that I enjoyed these chapters, and that remains true! Despite my problems with the concepts of saidar and saidin, I’m still eager to learn more about them, how they work, what can be done with them, and how our characters relate to their ever-evolving skill set. I was particularly interested in Egwene’s perspective; we’ve been told before how powerful she is, but this is the first time we’ve seen her declare it, and in such powerful and uncertain terms. Removed from her power-struggle arguments with Nynaeve (which makes them both seem a bit juvenile) Egwene’s confidence in her abilities is actually quite impressive, as it is whenever we see her in tel’aran’rhiod. I actually gasped a little when she claimed that she was holding an amount of power that would have Moiraine sobbing on the floor, or insensible. Egwene may be far from having Moiraine’s skill set, but I didn’t know she had progressed to the point of being able to tell the difference between her power and that of other Aes Sedai.

Egwene is growing up, and although I thought her handling of Rand in their “break-up” was pretty silly, overall she comes across as much more composed and Aes Sedai-like than she did even in the last book. I think taking on more and more responsibility is driving this change as much as her developing skill is, and I wonder how much she sees it. She is feeling pretty overwhelmed, after all, wishing for Moiraine’s ability to cow Joiya and Elayne’s noble bearing in front of the Aiel guards.

She was acting very Aes Sedai-like during her attempt to help Rand with channeling, too, and I don’t blame him for his irritation. Granted, some of this might be a more general gender-dynamic problem; perhaps this is how she always would have handled men, even in the Two Rivers. I also don’t believe that she is going to give up trying to figure out ways to help Rand. She may even succeed, in some unexpected way. I think her determination and unwillingness to accept what she is told will serve her well in the future, as it will all of the Emond’s Fielders, and probably Elayne too.

Both Elayne and Egwene note the changes that have occurred in Rand. Egwene thinks of how he looks and moves a bit more like Lan and a bit more like the Aiel, which shows how much Rand is relying on those influences to guide and shape him. I suppose it makes sense, but it also shows how he is turning away from Moiraine and the female influences in his development, and towards male ones (although the Maidens are an exception to this). Elayne notes his commanding nature, visible to her because of her experience with strong male leaders in her mother’s court. I was struck by her observation that he looked like “a stork among peacocks” when surrounded by the High Lords—it’s a humorous observation based on his height and youthful awkwardness, but I can’t help but think about how short a leap it is from stork to heron (they aren’t the same family but share many similarities and are easily mixed up by people), which gives the image a bit of a different meaning. There is a hidden danger to Rand, as well as a commanding nature, and the High Lords are too foolish to recognize either. Moiraine has her very justifiable concerns, but I think the High Lords will underestimate Rand at their peril.

Rand is also remarkably cute here, when he’s not destroying everything or sulking. His awkward attempts to give Elayne a gift are very sweet (and a little sad) and I was touched by the notion that he made a flower for the majhere, probably because he felt awkward and embarrassed about the destruction of his room. It’s these moments, I think, where we get to see the real Rand. People like to remind him that he’s just a shepherd, but I don’t think the true juxtaposition is shepherd vs Dragon, ignorant peasant vs haughty lord. The true difference is Rand acting under responsibility, being what the world demands of him, verses Rand being just himself.

When Rand states that he rules Tear, Egwene things of “a boy with a lamb nestled inside his coat, proud as a rooster because he had driven off the wolf that tried to take it.” For her, that’s a reminder that he’s a shepherd, not a king, but I think that the shepherd who drove off that wolf was acting under responsibility and duty too. Cuddling the lamb afterwards and showing it off, thought, that’s all Rand.

And so is the flower thing. One of the most realistic bits of the entire section is Elayne saving the feathers as a reminder of him trying to do something for her, and Rand not understanding it. That, to me, is the epitome of young love, while some of the conversations, the “handling” of Rand by Egwene and Elayne, feel clumsy and sexist.

And as much as I have complained about some of the relationships feeling a bit underdeveloped or shoe-horned in, I gotta say… that kiss was hot. So, yeah, getting more on board with that ship!

I did enjoy Rand’s perspective on taxes and the handling of Tear’s affairs. It’s common in these types of stories to throw a highlight on how ill-equipped the chosen one is to suddenly be elevated from normal to a ruler or leader, as I know we will see for Rand often. But there is value to his experiences too, especially here in this intensely class-stratified society, and it’s nice to see him thinking of the High Lords as idiots who don’t know where their food comes from. It makes perfect sense.

And then there’s Mat. Sweet, sweet Mat who can only sit still for so long. His prejudices aside, it goes against his nature to sit still for too long, and being held against his will by the Pattern has got to chafe, even without his fear of Rand, of Moiraine, and of the looming evil-bubbles driving him harder. And there is still the question of his tie to his past life and the way it keeps prodding into his present with snatches of the Old Tongue. I can’t blame him for wanting answers, and of all of the Emond’s Fielders, he has the fewest right now—even Perrin knows the basics of his condition, even if there are a lot of unknowns as to where it comes from or what his future holds. So yeah, I remarked last week that somebody was going to be going through Chekhov’s ter’angreal soon, and I am quite confident that it is going to be Mat.

Two more chapters (9 and 10) next week, and some danger and action coming our way. I’m going to go read them right now!

Sylas K Barrett is a sucker for romance, as much as he tries to deny it.

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