Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: Other Worlds and Couple Fights in Robert Jordan’s The Shadow Rising (Part 11)

This week in our read of The Shadow Rising, we get to travel to another world and meet a new species! We also get to watch a lot of stupid couples fights. Also, Loial is fabulous and Lan speaks poetry.

Chapter 15 opens with Mat sneaking down into the Great Hold to find the twisted doorway ter’angreal. He is both dismissive and a little bit awed by the cluttered arrangement of objects in the Hold, as well as dismissive and awed by the doorway itself, which appears very plain except for the three sinuous lines carved in it, and stands almost as if suspended by an invisible cord hanging from the ceiling. When Mat steps through, he finds himself blinded by a curtain of white light into a huge, round hall with yellow columns and lit by strange glowing spheres. He is greeted by a strange being dressed in yellow, tall and thin with hair that reminds Mat of a snake’s scales and pupils like vertical slits.

After making sure that Mat has not brought iron, fire, or musical instruments “according to the agreement” he leads Mat down corridors that wind on in a way that does not seem to make sense and are lined with windows that show them passing the same spires and trees over and over. The walk seems to go on forever, and Mat has to stop himself from asking how long it will take, not wanting to waste one of his three questions. Finally, he’s brought to another room, and his guide instructs him to “enter and ask.”

In this room he finds three beings, two of which seem female to him, wearing red and sitting cross-legged atop high pedestals. As the guide had done, they also remark how long it has been, but now the seekers are coming again. In unison they command him to“Enter and ask, according to the agreement of old.”

Mat is more than a little uncomfortable in their strange presence, but he is determined not to be put off now, and carefully outlines his situation for them before asking his first question—“Should I go home to help my people?”

“Three sets of slitted eyes lifted from him—reluctantly, it seemed—and studied the air above his head. Finally the woman on the left said, “You must go to Rhuidean.”

As soon as she spoke their eyes all dropped to him again, and they leaned forward, breathing deeply again, but at that moment a bell tolled, a sonorous brazen sound that rolled through the room. They swayed upright, staring at one another, then at the air over Mat’s head again.

“He is another,” the woman on the left whispered. “The strain. The strain.”

“The savor,” the man said. “It has been long.”

“There is yet time,” the other woman told them. She sounded calm—they all did—but there was a sharpness to her voice when she turned back to Mat. “Ask. Ask.”

But Mat is completely thrown by their command to go to Rhuidan, and demands to know why he should do such a thing. He tells them they are supposed to answer his questions, not hand him riddles.

The beings respond that if he doesn’t go to Rhuidan, he will die, and again the bell tolls, louder this time. They exclaim that the strain is too great, and press him for his last question. Mat asks why he will die if he does not go to Rhuidan.

The man cut him off and spoke hurriedly. “You will have sidestepped the thread of fate, left your fate to drift on the winds of time, and you will be killed by those who do not want that fate fulfilled. Now, go. You must go! Quickly!”

Mat does not want to go, shaking off his guide who has suddenly reappeared at his side as he demands clearer answers, and curses them out for distracting him from the questions he meant to ask. More yellow-clad beings appear, and although Mat fights them, they catch him up and carry him out of the room. But not before Mat can get in another question, what fate he will have side-stepped.

The three were on their feet atop the pedestals, and he could not tell which shrieked which answer.

“To marry the Daughter of the Nine Moons!”

“To die and live again, and live once more a part of what was!”

“To give up half the light of the world to save the world!”

Together they howled like steam escaping under pressure. “Go to Rhuidean, son of battles! Go to Rhuidean, trickster! Go, gambler! Go!”

With that Mat is carried off, as the very walls shake with the tolling bell, and bodily hurled back through the ter’angreal. He tries to jump back through it again, but this time remains in the Hold, as though the door really were just an ordinary doorframe. He’s taken to shouting at the door about how he won’t marry a noblewoman, or anyone until he’s too old to have any fun, when suddenly the doorway activates again and Rand backs through, holding his flaming sword. He’s as surprised to see Mat as Mat is to see him.

Mat admits that he went through, and comments that he thinks the snake people were a bunch of liars. But Rand disagrees, and admits that they were afraid of him from the first, and even more afraid of his sword.

Once again someone steps out of the doorway, Moiraine this time. She looks furious as soon as she sees them.

“You! You were both in there. That is why…!” She made a vexed hiss. “One of you would have been bad enough, but two ta’veren at once—you might have torn the connection entirely and been trapped there. Wretched boys playing with things you do not know the danger of. Perrin! Is Perrin in there, too? Did he share your… exploit?”

Mat remarks pithily that the last he saw of Perrin, he was getting ready for bed, and Moiraine demands which of the girls told them of the doorway. Rand answers that he learned it in some books, and Mat hides behind that answer too—he’s not opposed to getting Egwene in trouble, but getting on Moiraine’s nerves is even better. Still, he can tell that she doesn’t believe him, nor does she believe him when she questions them about their experiences. Rand won’t reveal the answers he learned, but does admit that getting them was difficult, that they had to bring in a translator of some kind. Moiraine explains that they were speaking a rather harsh dialect of the Old Tongue, and Mat lies and says that he couldn’t understand them, and that he was thrown back through the doorway without getting a chance to ask anything.

Moiraine tells them that the beings get sensation, in exchange for the answers they give, sensations and emotions and experiences that one can feel them rummaging through. Rand asks if they can be sure the answers are true.

“The answers are true,” Moiraine said slowly, “so long as they are in regard to your own future. That much is certain.” She watched Rand, and himself, weighing the effect of her words. “As to how, though, there is only speculation. That world is … folded … in strange ways. I cannot be clearer. It may be that that allows them to read the thread of a human life, read the various ways it may yet be woven into the Pattern. Or perhaps it is a talent of the people. The answers are often obscure, however. If you need help working out what yours mean, I offer my services.” Her eyes flickered from one of them to the other, and Mat nearly swore. She did not believe him about no answers. Unless it was simply general Aes Sedai suspicion.

Rand gave her a slow smile. “And will you tell me what you asked, and what they answered?”

Moiraine just looks at him for a long moment, then channels herself a light and heads towards the exit. Mat knows he should be grateful she’s letting the matter drop, but in his anger at the beings he calls after her, asking why you can’t go there twice. He just stops himself from asking about the musical instruments and iron, remembering that he can’t know about these things if he didn’t understand their speech. But Moiriane only replies—with a look back at Rand—that if she knew everything, she wouldn’t need to ask questions. And then she leaves.

When they’re alone, Rand asks Mat if he found out what he wanted. “Did you?” Mat counters, and Rand makes a flame that hovers over his palm and also starts for the door. Mat asks if Rand is really going to let Perrin go alone, and allow Whitecloaks do whatever they want to Emond’s Field. Rand answers that Perrin will do what he has to do to save Emond’s Field, and that he must do what he has to do, or even more than Emond’s Field will suffer, and from things much worse than Whitecloaks.

Perrin gets up when he starts to see the dawn light, having already been awake for at least an hour. He has to work his bruised shoulder until it’s less stiff, although it’s still painful. He had plenty of nightmares the night before, dreaming of mounting a gallows as Faile watched, or tried to stop it and was cut down by Whitecloaks. Sometimes wolves came out of the woods to help them and then were killed, alongside them.

Eager to escape his dreams and get on his way, Perrin washes quickly and hurries out of the room and down the hall, where he finds servants cleaning up the evidence of battle under the direction of the majhere. Perrin can still smell the blood, though.

He finds Loial in his Ogier-sized rooms, surrounded by books and, for some reason, a huge amount of flowers. But he’s caught by the knot on Loial’s head and the limp as the Ogier walks. He feels guilty for worrying that Loial will not be able to travel, and points out that Moiraine could Heal him. But Loial assures Perrin that the injuries aren’t bad, and that there are many more gravely wounded who need the Aes Sedai’s help. He’s more worried about making sure he’s correctly recorded all the details from the battle in his book, as he didn’t see most of what happened.

Faile appears from behind a bank of flowers—the heavy blooms having concealed her from both Perrin’s sight and his keen sense of smell—to report that Loial is a hero.

“He gathered as many children as he could—and some of their mothers—into a large room, and held the door alone against Trollocs and Myrddraal through the entire fight. These flowers are from the women of the Stone, tokens to honor his steadfast courage, his faithfulness.” She made “steadfast” and “faithfulness” crack like whips.

Perrin managed not to flinch, but only just. What he had done was right, but he could not expect her to see it. Even if she knew why, she would not see it. It was the right thing. It was. He only wished he felt better about the entire matter. It was hardly fair that he could be right and still feel in the wrong.

Loial, embarrassed, insists that he isn’t a hero, but Faile continues to harp on it, insisting that there isn’t “a woman in the Stone who would not marry you, if you were human, and some would anyway. Loial well named, for your nature is loyalty. Any woman could love that.”

But that was the wrong move, and Perrin, who knows Loial better than Faile does, recognizes it instantly. Loial tells them how he saw another Ogier, Laefar, in the city, who told Loial that the Elders of his stedding have named him a runaway, and that his mother has picked someone out for him to marry. Perrin tells Loial that he has to go back to the Two Rivers, and that Loial’s mother won’t find him there—when Loial hesitates, not wanting to be separate from Rand and his story, Perrin outlines his problem and how he needs Loial to guide him through the Ways, although he still leaves out the reason the Whitecloaks are after him.

Loial is ready to help when Faile interrupts, reminding Loial that he swore to her that he would take her through the Ways, wherever she wanted, and before he took everyone else. Loial tries to dissemble, but Faile holds fast to the fact that he swore. And Ogier never break an oath.

“She tricked you, Loial.” Perrin wondered if they could hear his teeth grinding. “She deliberately tricked you.”

Red stained Faile’s cheeks, but she still had the nerve to say, “Only because I had to, Loial. Only because a fool man thinks he can order my life to suit himself. I’d not have done it, otherwise. You must believe that.”

“Doesn’t it make any difference that she tricked you?” Perrin demanded, and Loial shook his massive head sadly.

When Loial learns that Faile intends to go to the Two Rivers, though, he thinks all his problems are solved. But Faile reminds him again that part of the promise was that it would be no one else allowed to come with them, unless they asked her. Perrin, furious, refuses to ask, and the conversation bounces unhelpfully back and forth, with Loial caught in the middle and Perrin threatening to follow them in the Ways and Loial worrying that Perrin will get lost, or caught by Machin Shin, until Faile at last agrees to “allow” Perrin to follow as close as he needs to to be safe, as long as it is clear that he is still following her, trailing behind her like a puppy. Even the departure time becomes contentious, with Perrin wanting to leave as soon as possible, and Faile angrily declaring that they leave 0n her say so, and setting the departure time for two hours. Perrin, in turn, speaks only to Loial and ignores her, infuriating Faile.

When Perrin leaves, however, he is approached by Gaul, who informs him that Rand told some of the Aiel about Perrin’s plan to go to the Two Rivers, asking them to go with him. Gaul is not sure if anyone else will choose to, but he himself wants to come if Perrin will allow it. Perrin is surprised and delighted, the concept of having Aiel with him opening up a whole new realm of possibilities that might not include Perrin’s own death.

Meanwhile, Nynaeve, Elayne and Egwene are finishing their packing and discussing Rand’s reaction to Elayne telling him that she’s leaving. She’s upset that he took it so easily, in fact seemed relieved, and feels self-conscious because she left him a letter laying her heart out to him. Egwene is similarly frustrated, for some reason.

Just then the door bursts open, startling the women so much that both Egwene and Elayne embraces saidar, but it’s just Lan, although he’s furious enough that Elayne doesn’t really feel the need to let go of saidar just yet.

Lan did not appear to see anyone but Nynaeve. “You let me believe you were returning to Tar Valon,” he rasped at her.

“You may have believed it,” she said calmly, “but I never said it.”

“Never said it? Never said it! You spoke of leaving today, and always linked your leaving with those Darkfriends being sent to Tar Valon. Always! What did you mean me to think?”

“But I never said—”

“Light, woman!” he roared. “Do not bandy words with me!”

Elayne and Egwene are struck by the reversal of roles; Lan, who has a will of iron and yet seems now almost at a breaking point, and Nynaeve, usually so quick to fly off the handle, and yet now facing him as cooly as stone. He controls himself, outwardly at least, and demands to at least know why they are going to Tanchico, reminding them that they are only Accepted, and that Tanchico is no place for anyone except a full Aes Sedai with a Warder at her back. But Nynaeve reminds him that he has sworn to obey Moiraine, and that she must have her reasons for not telling him.

Still, Lan points out that they need someone to keep them safe, and that he could protect her. Elayne is shocked at the suggestion, but Nynaeve reminds him that his place is with Moiraine and shows him the letter from the Amyrlin for good measure. Lan is shocked, of course, but Nynaeve only tells him to count himself lucky that she doesn’t command him to dance for her.

“Do you not? You dispose of me very neatly. My bond, and my oaths. This letter.” Lan had a dangerous gleam in his eye, which Nynaeve seemed not to notice as she took back the letter and replaced it in the pouch on her belt.

“You are very full of yourself, al’Lan Mandragoran. We do as we must, as you will.”

“Full of myself, Nynaeve al’Meara? I am full of myself?” Lan moved so quickly toward Nynaeve that Elayne very nearly wrapped him in flows of Air before she could think. One moment Nynaeve was standing there, with just time to gape at the tall man sweeping toward her; the next her shoes were dangling a foot off the floor and she was being quite thoroughly kissed. At first she kicked his shins and hammered him with her fists and made sounds of frantic, furious protest, but her kicks slowed and stopped, and then she was holding on to his shoulders and not protesting at all.

Egwene averts her eyes but Elayne watches with interest, wondering if she looked like that when Rand kissed her, and considering if she would have been better off writing a different kind of letter, one that let him know she was not to be trifled with. When Lan releases Nynaeve from the kiss she complains angrily about being manhandled for all the world to see, but Lan doesn’t care.

“Not the whole world,” he replied. “But if they can see, they can hear as well. You have made a place in my heart where I thought there was no room for anything else. You have made flowers grow where I cultivated dust and stones. Remember this, on this journey you insist on making. If you die, I will not survive you long.” He gave Nynaeve one of his rare smiles. If it did not exactly soften his face, at least it made it less hard. “And remember also, I am not always so easily commanded, even with letters from the Amyrlin.” He made an elegant bow; for a moment Elayne thought he actually meant to kneel and kiss Nynaeve’s Great Serpent ring. “As you command,” he murmured, “so do I obey.” It was difficult to tell whether he meant to be mocking or not.

Nynaeve waits until he leaves to sit down heavily, and the girls discuss his reaction and point out to Nynaeve that he was ready to go with her, which is what she has wanted the whole time. But Nynaeve replies that she doesn’t want that broken oath hanging between them. In the meantime, they have work to do, and it is time to be going. They have a slightly tearful farewell, and Egwene remarks a little self-consciously that it’s good Lan left, as he would think they were being foolish. But Nynaeve replies that he would not.

Elayne decides that she will write a new letter, that Nyenave is right and men need a firm hand.

….Rand would find he could not get away from her so easily. And he would not find it easy to worm his way back into her good graces.

 

Okay you all know that I ship Nynaeve and Lan hardcore, and this chapter was almost perfect. But I hate that bit where Nynaeve fights the kiss at first before relenting; whether or not she was only struggling out of principle, it still plays into that trope of women needing to be persuaded and cajoled into enjoying sex and sexual situations. On its own it can seem innocuous enough, but the prevalence of such scenes in fiction and the resulting application in real life makes it another matter. Consent is consent, and just because society is more conscious of that now than we were in 1992 doesn’t make it less icky.

That being said, the romantic declaration Lan gives is beautiful, in the best kind of overly-dramatic, cheesy way. “You have made flowers grow where I cultivated dust and stones”? Ugh, Lan, you poetical bastard. And I can’t blame Nynaeve if she enjoys having the tables turned, getting to tell him that circumstances don’t allow the romantic choices he wants, as he has been doing to her.

It really does bother me that all the romance happens off-screen, as it were, although given my criticisms of how Jordan handles them, perhaps it is for the best. I’m just such a sucker for character work, and I really want to know what Nynaeve did to bring such light into Lan’s heart. It can’t just have been the bad meals she made.

As for Elayne and Rand, I’m not sure what Elayne is upset about. Sure, one always wants a little emotion from one’s partner, but she has to realize that Rand is also burdened by duty, and probably is glad that she’s leaving for the same reason she’s glad that he didn’t demand that she stay, or insist on coming with her. We’re just getting a different flavor of the Perrin and Faile fight now, a little less intense and a little less childish, but roughly the same.

Speaking of Faile and Perrin, I’m not sure which of them I’m more frustrated with right now. I understand why Faile felt like she had to manipulate Loial, but having gotten what she wanted, I think she would have done better to be gracious and allowed Perrin to come, without all the pointless punishing and pride drama. But Perrin was also being stubborn and prideful for no reason—she already knows that he doesn’t want her to come, and holding his ground to such a degree when he has already lost this fight just prolongs everyone’s discomfort, especially Loial’s. Perrin is cross with Faile for manipulating the Ogier, but he’s not willing to make things any easier for Loial, either, and is willing to leave Loial in the middle of the fight rather than cede this one small bit of ground to his girlfriend. Given how much Loial is willing to risk just because of his friendship for Perrin, it would have been nice to see Perrin give up a little in return.

Perrin’s nightmares did a good job of reminding us of the stakes for him here, however. Dreaming of Faile being killed by Whitecloaks, dreaming of wolves dying because of their connection to him, pulls us back a little from this childish feud he and Faile are having and refocuses on the trauma and loss Perrin has experienced. I still don’t agree with how he’s handling things, and hope that in time he’ll learn to open up with Faile, to be honest about what he wants and needs rather than trying to trick her into it. But I do have a lot of sympathy for him.

I’m reminded of Lan’s reaction to Nynaeve’s initial overtures, and how he acted as though his unilateral decision of what fate was acceptable for her was some kind of act of selflessness, rather than a selfish one. He was willing to dictate what Nynaeve was allowed to have without acknowledging that her own desires had weight and were just as fair as his. Similarly, Perrin is willing to dictate what Faile is allowed to do without taking her own intelligence or free will into account. He is allowed to die for his family, but she is not allowed to risk her life for him. Thus, in both cases the men are acting as though they are protecting the women, when in actuality they are protecting themselves from emotional pain. Which is still their right, but one hopes for a certain amount of self-awareness and honesty in the process.

Loial is right, humans are just too stubborn, even if it ends up getting them in a whole lot of trouble. Look at Mat, Rand, and Moiraine. Their little standoff might seem to be for better reasons, but ultimately it still rather feels like cutting off their noses to spite their faces. If Moiraine would give a little, Rand might come to trust her, and allow her at least some of the confidence she keeps trying to get from him. Mat wants answers, but he won’t accept the ones he’s given or let anyone help him understand what they mean.

I just love that Mat just kicks open the one old door in the Hold and it shatters into pieces. He’s all whispering to that rat and feeling in awe of the place, but he couldn’t just try opening a door like a non-dramatic human being.

I also keep trying to figure out what order the three went in, though there’s really no way of knowing. For some reason I assumed Mat was first in and first out—I think because of the way the snake-like beings reacted, saying that “the seekers come again.” If Mat had been the first one through I imagine there would have been a little more surprise, or that they would have perhaps seemed a bit surprised to see him. Also, I figure Rand’s session would have taken the longest, since he needed a translator.

I suppose it doesn’t actually matter, but for some reason it feels like it does.

Moiraine tells us that these beings live in a folded world, and I suspect that in this case the term “dimension” or “reality” could also be used. They appear to be some kind of fae, given the clue about the dislike of iron and the fact that they interact differently with both time and with human emotion and experience. It’s fascinating because they’re the first introduction we’ve had in quite a while to a sentient non-human people. In fact, all of the others we know of—Trollocs, Myrddraal, and Ogier—were introduced to us in the very first book. Encountering a new species now raises a lot of questions for me, and prompts me to reconsider what we know of those species we’ve already met.

For example, despite my attempts to be as analytical as possible in these reads, I must admit that I’ve never given much thought to Trollocs and Myrddraal beyond my initial impression that they were analogs for the orcs and ringwraiths of The Lord of the Rings. They do function similarly within the narrative, and their origins are somewhat similar too. In The Lord of the Rings, orcs are the descendants of corrupted elves, technically no longer the same species but coming originally from them. Trollocs and Myrddraal are the spawn of human and animals being interbred. One assumes there’s some kind of supernatural or weird dark-science intervention at play, but ultimately these creatures come from earthly stock, and exist from some kind of Dark One breeding program, rather than as a uniquely developing species in their own right.

I had assumed that Ogier, on the other hand, were that naturally developing species. They are a bit like the ents of Middle Earth, and a bit like the elves too, dressed up with other details from mythology about ogres and giants. But it is odd, in a way, that there are no other species of “people” existing in this world, and now, with the introduction of these new beings from another dimension, I wonder if it doesn’t provide a bit of a clue.

We already knew that the ancient Aes Sedai had the ability to go to other universes, like the mirror world Rand encountered in The Great Hunt. How many other universes, other dimensions, did the old Aes Sedai have access to? And were there sometimes creatures they met there with whom they struck bargains, as they seem to have done with these fae people? Could, perhaps, the Ogier be something like that?

The clues, I think, lie in the steddings. The very name evokes the word “homestead,” for one. Also there is the way the One Power works there, or rather, does not work there. I had initially assumed that Ogier intentionally created the block against accessing the One Power, in order to enforce peace in their land, a sort of “no weapons allowed” neutral zone. But although it does seem to function that way, there is really no suggestion that the steddings are like this way on purpose, or at least are purposefully run that way by the current inhabitants. On the other hand, if the Ogier are transplants from another world, some kind of settlers, perhaps their land is not native either, or has somehow been affected by their presence to function more like their own home than the new world they came to, like some kind of literal expression of the idea that the land on which an international embassy is built is sovereign soil of the corresponding country.

In any case, I don’t think Mat was very smart in the way he handled things. He’s so careful in planning his questions, so anxious about what stepping through the ter’angreal might do, but then he gets there and immediately loses his temper. It seems a lot to expect that such an experience with the One Power, an unknown species, and a strange set of rules would go simply and to his plan–he must have some idea how little he understands of what is happening. Also, “should I go home?” is a terribly unspecific question, when you think about it, and he actually got a much more specific answer than I would have expected. The snake people clearly did some work on his behalf, divining more of what he wanted to know, and Mat missed it.

They said he could side-step his fate! Isn’t that exactly what our dear Matrim has been after this whole time? As for the Daughter of the Nine Moons, my only thought is that the title sounds vaguely Seanchan, and I remember that Egwene dreamed about Mat struggling with a Seanchan woman who ties an invisible leash to him. That also sounds like something he would want to avoid, even if he wasn’t so very against the nobility.

I suppose Mat being so upset at the cryptic-seeming answers is like Egwene pressing Amys for answers about the Black Ajah. On the one hand, I totally understand their frustration, and it’s not their fault that they have been forced into this situation in which they must be involved with, and make decisions about, things that are far outside of their understanding. On the other hand, their determination to get answers to the questions they have decided are most important could blind them to the importance of the information they are actually getting. Egwene could have been so focused on the Black Ajah and Tanchico that she decided not to go to Amys. Similarly, Mat might be too frustrated (and frightened) by what the snake-people told him to see that some of his questions really have been answered, though not quite in the fashion he desired.

I wanted to get to also Thom this week, but the chapters have gotten more complicated again, and there’s some really great revelations in them that I’m ready to explore in more depth next week. Stay tuned for chapters 17 and 18, where we get to learn more about both Thom and Moiraine’s history, and take another trip into the Ways. In the meantime, I leave you with my final thoughts.

  • I wonder if Mat will end up traveling with Egwene, or if this will be another one of those times where people’s paths lead them to the same place, even without their knowledge.
  • So, is it going to turn out that we’ve been reading Loial’s book all along, just like LotR is Bilbo and Frodo’s (and Sam’s)?
  • How the heck did Faile get Loial to swear to all that? I know he’s sweet and she’s a bit of a bully when it comes to getting what she wants, but that was an awfully specific promise, and I would have thought he would have been at least a bit suspicious about it.
  • How powerful is the Bond between an Aes Sedai and her Warder? Lan was certainly struggling to get the words out, to say outright that he wanted to go with Nynaeve, but I don’t know if that was just an emotional struggle or if something else was at play. I know that Aes Sedai can compel their warders through the bond, but could Lan have tried to leave without her permission? What would have happened if he did?

Sylas K Barrett is very proud of Loial this week, and thinks someone should buy him an ale before making him brave the Ways again. Or at least after. Not sure that’s going to happen, though.

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