Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: Lews Therin’s Loves in Robert Jordan’s The Shadow Rising (Part 8)

So my analysis got a bit long, and as a result, this week’s recap only covers Chapter 9. But it’s an exciting one, with Lanfear returning to Rand and revealing herself, and in the process letting us know more about the Forsaken and how they think. We also get a rare glimpse at what life is like for our heroes between all the important dramatic moments; I was talking just last week about how much of the romance and other character interactions happen “offstage” during the quiet moments of traveling or waiting around, which the reader doesn’t see, so I’m happy that half of this chapter was devoted to that. I really love getting to know characters better, and all the little details that don’t always come up when you’re being brave and heroic and self-sacrificing.

And now, the recap.

Chapter nine opens with a heatwave arriving in Tear, bringing life in the city and the Stone down to a sluggish pace. Still, the folks from Emond’s Field and Tar Valon keep pushing, more concerned about the loss of time than the oppressive heat. Mat plays dice in the city, having discovered (as he expected) that the news of the playing cards’ attack has spread to all the lords as well as to the serving women he liked to spend time with. Thom is almost impossible to find, although Mat doesn’t know what is keeping the gleeman so busy. Mat is aware, however, that Moiraine is continuing to keeping an eye on him. Once, Mat even goes down into the Great Holding, but he retreats again quickly, calling himself a fool.

Perrin is also frequenting taverns, although for an entirely different reason than Mat. Perrin is looking for news and gossip, for some prospect of adventure to draw Faile away from Tear… and away from Perrin. He knows that she wants him to leave with her, but he’s hoping he can find something so enticing that she’ll be willing to leave without him. She is starting to give him sidelong looks, wondering what he is up to, but Perrin keeps trying, and keeps the truth of what he’s up to from her.

Egwene and Nynaeve are still spending time grilling Amico and Joiya, but they aren’t able to get any farther with either of them. Egwene even tries reading about Tarabon and Tanchico in the Stone’s library, but to no avail. On a lighter note, she finds herself becoming friends with Aviendha, with whom she shares conversation and even laughter. The differences in their cultural understanding lead to some interesting moments, such as Aviendha not understanding why Elayne or Egwene aren’t challenging Berelain to a fight to get her out of the way, but mostly Egwene is just grateful to have someone to spend time with in between sessions of grilling Joiya and Amico. Nyenave spends the time walking with Lan, or in the kitchens, trying to make foods the Warder likes.

Rand and Elayne steal whatever moments together they can, even if it’s just Elayne finding him between meetings and walking there with him or stealing moments in secluded corners, with the help of the Maidens of the Spear, who seem to enjoy the game of letting Elayne know when Rand is alone. Elayne even gives Rand advice on governing, at his request, and Elayne loves that he respects, and often takes, her advice. Still, they both feel the days slipping away, knowing that soon the Black Ajah will be sent away and Nynaeve, Egwene, and Elayne will go to.

And Rand will have to act.

He has been trying to formulate his plan, although he feels like some piece is still missing. He’s also putting off the decision until she leaves, using that timeline as an excuse to wait, and spending those moments being just a man and a woman, not the people their heavy destinies make them. But as the third day begins to come to a close, he knows he has to move, and in a direction no one expects.

Rand loses his temper with the High Lords when they present to him the treaty he wanted for the Mayenen ships. What the High Lords drew up included not just that, but two thousand soldiers “to see to proper distribution of the grain and protect Tairen interests.” Rand nearly loses it when they argue that Torean, who has been named commander of these forces, has “interests” in Mayene, and he does lose it when he asks if they’ve even spoken to Berelain and they blink at him in confusion. Rand loses his temper, causing the treaty to ignite in the hands of the High Lord who’s holding it and then throwing them all out of the room.

“You will go to Berelain,” he told them, surprised at how calm his voice was. “By tomorrow midday you will have offered her the treaty I want, or by sunset tomorrow I’ll hang both of you. If I have to hang High Lords every day, two by two, I will. I will send every last one of you to the gallows if you won’t obey me. Now, get out of my sight.”

The quiet tone seemed to affect them more than his shouting had. Even Meilan looked uneasy as they backed away, bowing at every other step, murmuring protestations of undying loyalty and everlasting obedience. They sickened him.

Rand snaps at them again, and the High Lords abandon their dignity and scurry to leave as quickly as possible. Rand hates the temper he has developed and his struggle to control it, but tells himself that he is not mad, not yet. Just very, very angry.

He’s thinking about how Elayne leaves the next day, and about the prophecy of the herons that mark his hands, when a voice speaks to him, and he finds that Selene is somehow in his room. He greets her excitedly, since he’d been worried that she’d been hurt or killed in the Cairhien civil war.

Selene, looking at his face, observes that he is “marked,” but that it doesn’t matter, any other is just a caretaker and now she has come to claim what’s hers. Rand (who has found that her beauty, while still extraordinary, doesn’t have quite the same affect on him as it did before) does his best to let her down gently, telling her how much he appreciated her companionship and her bravery during their travels, but that they were only ever friends. He offers her the safety of the Stone, and promises to try to have her estates in Cairhien returned to her when the war ends.

“You have been marked.” She smiled wryly. “Estates in Cairhien? I may have had estates in those lands, once. The land has changed so much that nothing is as it was. Selene is only a name I sometimes use, Lews Therin. The name I made my own is Lanfear.”

Rand barked a shallow laugh. “A poor joke, Selene. I’d as soon make jests about the Dark One as one of the Forsaken. And my name is Rand.”

“We call ourselves the Chosen,” she said calmly. “Chosen to rule the world forever. We will live forever. You can, also.”

For a moment, Rand thinks that she must have lost her mind, but her calm certainty unnerves him, and when he reaches for saidin he finds himself blocked from the Source. He tries next for Callandor, thinking he could use the weapon as an actual sword, even if he can’t channel, but in edging towards it he back sinto another wall, this one solid as stone behind him, even though he can’t see it.

Selene tells him that she cannot trust him, not yet, and asks if he remembers her true appearance. Rand, horrified, thinks of Aginor and Balthamel, but when she shows it to him she appears only somewhat older, more mature and even more beautiful than before. She explains that she was buried deeply, in a dreamless sleep, and Time passed her by. Scratching at his jaw with her fingernail she tells him that time time for games and subterfuge is past, which Rand takes to mean she intends to kill him.

“Kill you?” she spat incredulously. “Kill you! I mean to have you, forever. You were mine long “before that pale-haired milksop stole you. Before she ever saw you. You loved me!”

“And you loved power!” For a moment he felt dazed. The words sounded true–he knew they were true–but where had they come from?

Lanfear is momentarily startled as well, but recovers quickly, telling him that, although he has learned much since they last saw each other, more than she believed he could without help, he is still fumbling around a maze in the dark. She names some Forsaken who fear him, who will try to kill him, but claims that others, male Forsaken, can teach him to wield saidin properly. Rand can see the logic, but he defies her anyway, promising to destroy her and every last Forsaken, if given the chance.

A dangerous gleam flashed in her eyes and was gone. “Do you know why some of us fear you? Do you have any idea? Because they are afraid the Great Lord of the Dark will give you a place above them.”

Rand surprised himself by managing a laugh. “Great Lord of the Dark? Can’t you say his true name, either? Surely you don’t fear to attract his attention, as decent people do. Or do you?”

“It would be blasphemy,” she said simply. “They are right to be afraid, Sammael and the rest. The Great Lord does want you. He wants to exalt you above all other men. He told me.”

“That’s ridiculous! The Dark One is still bound in Shayol Ghul, or I would be fighting Tarmon Gai’don right now. And if he knows I exist, he’d want me dead. I mean to fight him.”

Lanfear explains that it is possible to speak with the Dark One, that if you go down into the Pit of Doom in Shayol Ghul, you can hear him and bask in his presence. She insists that the Dark One will allow Rand free rein to do as he wants, as long as he acknowledges him just once. A Forsaken named Asmodean can teach Rand what he needs to know, after which they can destroy all the other Forsaken. She insists that she and Rand can rule under the Dark One forever.

Her voice dropped to a whisper, equal parts eagerness and fear. “Two great sa’angreal were made just before the end, one that you can use, one that I can. Far greater than that sword. Their power is beyond imagining. With those, we could challenge even… the Great Lord himself. Even the Creator!”

“You are mad,” he said raggedly. “The Father of Lies says he will leave me free? I was born to fight him. That is why I am here, to fulfill the Prophecies. I’ll fight him, and all of you, until the Last Battle! Until my last breath!”

Lanfear tells him that the Prophecies are nothing more than a sign of things people hope for, that choosing to fulfill them will only bind Rand to a destiny that leads to his death. She tells him that the Great Lord of the Dark can destroy his very soul, bringing the cycle of the Dragon’s rebirth to an end.

Still Rand resists her, and although she tells him she could have him forcibly turned to the Dark Lord, she does not seem inclined to do it. Rand’s eyes dart around the room, looking for any weapon, any way out, passing over the figure of a man with a knife slipping in by the doors. There’s nothing to help him, as Lanfear decides that she won’t take him now, declaring that she wants him to come to her of his own volition. Suddenly she notices him frowning, and asks him what’s wrong.

A man slipping in at the doors with a knife; his eyes had slid past the fellow almost without seeing. Instinctively he pushed Lanfear out of the way and reached for the True Source; the shield blocking him vanished as he touched it, and his sword was in his hands like a red-gold flame. The man rushed at him, knife held low and point up for a killing stroke. Even then it was difficult to keep his eyes on the fellow, but Rand pivoted smoothly, and The Wind Blows Over the Wall took off the hand holding the knife and finished by driving through his assailant’s heart. For an instant he stared into dull eyes–lifeless while that heart still pumped–then pulled his blade free.

“A Gray Man.” Rand took what felt like his first breath in hours. The corpse at his feet was messy, bleeding onto the scroll-worked carpet, but there was no difficulty in fixing an eye on him now. It was always that way with the Shadow’s assassins; when they were noticed, it was usually too late. “This makes no sense. You could have killed me easily. Why distract me for a Gray Man to sneak up on me?”

Lanfear tells him that she never makes use of the Soulless, and that she has come a day late. Still, there is time for him to come with her and learn, or does he mean to kill her after she loosed him to defend himself?

Hesitating, Rand finds that, even knowing who and what she is, he can’t bring himself to try to kill her. He’s also aware that she can do things with the Power he can’t even imagine, and that although he once blocked Egwene and Elayne, he has no idea how he did it or how to do it again. As he hesitates, he suddenly remembers the Aiel. A Gray Man should not have been able to sneak past a room full of watchful Aiel. He asks Lanfear what she did to them.

“Nothing,” she replied coolly. “Do not go out there. This may be only a testing to see how vulnerable you are, but even a testing may kill you if you are a fool.”

He flung open the left-hand door onto a scene of madness.

 

We learn a lot in a short time here, don’t we? I was a little surprised by Lanfear’s sudden pivot from subterfuge to honesty, but then, she has been away from Rand for a long time, and he’s changed quite a bit since then, as has his situation. Perhaps she thought the seeds she planted earlier would have germinated, making him more susceptible to her, or perhaps she thought his brush with true power (and the danger that comes with it) might make him more eager to turn to people who can actually aid him, both in learning channeling and in strategy. I think Lanfear’s hunger for power–as with all the Forsaken, no doubt—makes her too single minded and inflexible when it comes to people not seeing things exactly as she does. Playing a long con as Selene might be more effective, whispering temptation in his ear as he struggles with his destiny, but she’d probably see that as beneath her. She’s one of the “Chosen,” after all. Swooping in to carry him off to his great destiny is probably more her style.

She’s not the first to tell Rand that he needs one of the Forsaken to teach him. Ishamael was pretending to be the Dark One at the time, but he pointed out several times that he was the only one who could help Rand learn to control his Power, and reminded him repeatedly of his own ignorance. He also asked Rand to swear fealty to him, although it’s a bit unclear if Ishamael thought that Rand would become bound to him, or if by doing this under the guise of the Dark One, Rand would swear proper fealty to the actual Shai’tan.

After all, as Lanfear points out, many of the Forsaken are afraid that Rand will be elevated above them, which makes sense even without having to travel to Shayol Shul and speak with the Dark one directly–the Dark One and his followers are all about power, and the Dragon Reborn is the most powerful of all humans. Ishamael as Ba’alzamon even says this of his “hounds”–he claims that they are jealous of Rand because of this potential. I do wonder if Ishamael hoped to bind or control Rand in such a way that Ishamael would remain above him, or if Ishamael was arrogant enough to suppose himself truely superior to the Dragon Reborn. (From what we’ve seen of the man, I would say this circumstance is pretty likely) It does seems like a lot of his arrogance and claims of superiority were true to Ishamael the man, but it’s possible that some of those words were meant to sound like what the real Dark One would say. Either way, Ishamael clearly intends to be top dog.

It’s hard to make too many judgements about the Forsaken and how they think yet, although we’ve seen a fair amount of two of them. Still, all we really know for sure about them is that they are powerful channelers from the Age of Legends who knew Lews Therin, and that they (like all other Darkfriends) are obsessed with the desire for power and immortality. Now we have learned that most of them want to kill Rand not because they think Rand will stop the Dark One, but because they fear that Rand, as the Dragon, will be elevated over them in ruling the world after the Dark One breaks free and wins the Last Battle.

But Lanfear has presented a new option, that is neither kill Rand nor somehow subjugate him below her. Instead, she and Rand would be peers, equals who rule the world together under the Dark One, after disposing of all the other darkfriends. After my comment last week suggesting that there should be a female counterpart to the Dragon, I can appreciate her point. But it is fascinating how unwilling Lanfear is to consider Rand as a different person than Lews Therin; a reincarnation, yes, but a different man in his own right. It’s funny to see such a terrifyingly dangerous person stuck on such a teenage-esque problem as not being able to move on after getting dumped. Despite the fact that Lews Therin was married with children, she still considered him hers, just as she considers Rand hers, although they don’t even know each other.

Speaking of married with children, I first took Lanfear’s jab at “that pale-haired milksop” to be about Elayne, but of course she must actually be thinking of Ilyena, Lews Therin’s wife, who also had golden hair and must be the one Lanfear thinks of as having stolen him from her.

I’m curious as to how literal she was being when she said Rand was “marked.” She definitely treats him more like a possession than a person, so she may have been thinking of Elayne’s “claim” on Rand in the same terms. On the other hand, Rand and Elayne are powerful channelers, and there may be some way in which that shows itself when a relationship develops, perhaps in a concrete connection that mirrors the emotional one. Or maybe there’s a little bit of a power of love situation going on here, as is common enough in fantasy stories.

Or she was just using the term to get under Rand’s skin. That’s quite possible, too. He is confused when she says it, partially because he had just been thinking about the prophecy about the Dragon being marked twice with the heron and twice with the dragon.

But these Forsaken are just so sure of themselves, or are at least extremely good at presenting surety. Ishamael was putting on a show of being the Dark One, of course, so it’s not like he was going to exhibit any doubt in what he was saying, but Lanfear’s certainty that Rand will be hers one day doesn’t seem like an act. It’s a more grounded kind of certainty than the belief that the Dark One will triumph, I suppose, like the difference between confidence in one’s own abilities and faith in a higher power. And her surprise at Rand’s resistance certainly seemed genuine.

But then, the Forsaken’s confidence makes sense, when you consider what they really are. Not just Darkfriends with the power of the Shai’tan himself behind them, but experienced channelers from a by-gone age, whose knowledge and power is unheard of in this generation. To them, it’s not just Rand and co. that are children, but Moiraine and Lan too. Even powerful people like the Amyrlin probably seem like novices, compared to the world that the Forsaken knew during the Age of Legends.

And this brings us to something that I’ve touched on before, but which I feel like I have more understanding of now. Rand’s journey as the Dragon is unique (as far as we know) because he is dealing with people who existed when the last Dragon was alive. It may be that these same enemies are longstanding enemies of the Dragon–it’s still unclear to me if everyone is reincarnated in this universe, or only certain people–but one supposes that normally, the Dragon Reborn is dealing with enemies of his own generation, born in his own Age and possessing relatively the same amount of knowledge and resources that he possesses. Rand, on the other hand, is a direct heir to the mess Lews Therin made, right down to the relationship problems.

Then again, Rand’s retort to Lanfear that she loved power seemed to come from somewhere other than his own knowledge, almost as if he did remember a little something from his time as Lews Therin. It may be possible that there is a connection between the different identities, the different lives that this soul has lived, which would connect them to bygone eras, and perhaps to other reincarnated people. Perhaps, too, the fact that Lews Therin knew how to channel is somehow coming through in Rand, helping him learn even though there is no one to teach him. Moiraine has been surprised by what he has figured out how to do, had wanted him to take Callandor later for fear that he did not know enough yet, and now Lanfear has also been surprised by how much he has managed to learn on his own. Perhaps he has some help that even he is not yet aware of.

I’m not sure if  Tarmon Gai’don is also a unique event in the turning of the Wheel, or if there have been lots of Last Battles every time the Dark One starts getting close to escaping. One assumes that it must happen from time to time, that the advantage between the Dragon and the Dark One ebbs and flows, with some Dragons living in a relatively stable age, while others are born into more dangerous times. That is, after all, what seems to have happened in Lews Therin’s time; the Dark One threatened to break free from his prison, and in their actions to oppose this, Lews Therin and his company exposed saidin to the taint.

In non Forsaken-related thoughts, it was really nice getting a little more of Rand and Elayne in the beginning of this chapter. I get a very Eowyn/Faramir feeling from them, although their courtship is occurring before most of the main stuff happens, instead of at the end of the story. I appreciate that the narrative takes time to show how they relate to each other and support each other, the way she advises him and teaches him about leading and the way he recognizes her strengths and makes her feel seen and respected. It feels very real to me, and very adult, especially considering the fact that they both have huge responsibilities to other things, which will demand a lot of time apart, possibly for the rest of their lives. These little moments are showing how they might work as a team, as well as how they feel about each other romantically. I wish we had some more insight into what Lan and Nynaeve’s relationship is like these days, though; if the Warder is convinced that he and Nynaeve cannot be, it seems cruel of him to be going on romantic walks and accepting the food that she cooks (Badly, which makes me laugh. How can someone be good with medicines and potions and not be able to follow a recipe?). It’s just stringing her along with the promise that something will change, when he doesn’t believe that it will.

Perrin, on the other hand, is acting like an idiot. I understand his desire to protect Faile, his fear of causing her harm, but sneaking around like this feels like a really stupid way to deal with it. She is quite capable of making her own decisions and finding her own path, if she chooses too, and in the meantime, all this ill-kept secrecy is just going to make her angry at and suspicious of him. I suppose he might get what he wants that way, though–she might leave because she’s tired of being ignored and shut out of whatever sneaking around she can tell Perrin is doing.

I’m also a fan of Egwene and Aviendha’s friendship. From a technical standpoint, I’m always pleased when narratives focus on strong female friendships, which The Wheel of Time often does, despite having gender imbalances in other areas. From an emotional standpoint, I think it’s fun because the two women are so different, and they can be interesting foils for each other.

And as for Rand… it’s nice to get into his head again, after having so little of his perspective in The Dragon Reborn. His thoughts then seemed so fragmented, no doubt from fear and exhaustion and the single-minded focus of fleeing his hunters and obtaining Callandor, but here once again we have a Rand who seems to be thinking clearly and complexly, even if he’s faced with a terribly difficult scenario. Carrying the responsibility of the Dragon Reborn is a heavy burden, even before you get to Tarmon Gai’don or the prophesied second Breaking of the World. The title grants Rand an authority, it is a flimsy sort of thing, based on what people know of the Dragon and the prophecies but not on who Rand al’Thor actually is. It’s the same as his authority in the Stone, which is based solely on the fact that Rand and the Aiel conquered it. On paper, this should give him the undying loyalty of the High Lords, but those men were never really going to respect someone who doesn’t think or behave the way they believe a leader should, as Moiraine and Rand have both noticed. And so too, does the title of Dragon only grant Rand a small reprieve (for those who can be convinced of its truth) before he has to back it up with more useful proof than an old banner of a creature no one recognizes and some skill at channeling.

It’s easy to understand his hesitation to act. In the next chapter, we’ll see him struggle with the fallout of battle and his guilt over causing the death of innocents. But the truth, as Moiraine and Elayne have pointed out, is that war is coming either way, that the Forsaken and Darkspawn and eventually Tarmon Gai’don will come, whatever actions he chooses. And I imagine that Rand will feel equal guilt, whether he blames himself for hesitating, or for acting, over the consequences of the battles that are to come. That burden is part of being the Dragon Reborn, and it plays into one of the central themes of The Wheel of Time, to examine what it would really feel like to be a Chosen One.

In this chapter, Rand goes over the prophecy about the heron marks again, a verse which also references him being twice marked by a dragon, as well as twice by the heron. It’s a nice bit of dramatic irony that we, the readers, can recognizes the description of the creature on Rand’s banner as a dragon, while none of the current heros can (one assumes the Forsaken would know, since they were around during Lews Therin’s time). I’d be tempted to say that the Dragon Banner is the first mark placed on Rand, but there was a time when I thought the heron-marked blade was the first mark of its kind, and it turned out that both marks were actual physical marks on his skin. So I imagine that being twice marked by the image of a dragon will go the same way. Poor Rand, he just keeps getting branded.

Next week we finally get to the action, have more time with Lanfear, and see some Trollocs acting in a very unusual way. Also, Egwene experiments with entering Tel’aran’rhiod without her ring, and makes a new friend. See you next week for chapters 10 and 11!

Sylas K Barrett is very interested in learning more about how the Forsaken think, and if there is a complexity to their desires beyond the basic power-lust and fear of death.

citation

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