Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: Thom Is Sent Away and Min Is Still Trapped in Robert Jordan’s The Shadow Rising (Part 12)

Welcome back to our read of The Shadow Rising. This week we’re covering Chapter 17, which is long and complex enough to warrant a post all to itself.

I’ll tell you what, though. I can’t help but be reminded of Star Wars: Episode One during some of these long chapters full of plotting and details that are obviously going to be important later, but much of which I don’t know what to make of yet. Granted, no one is droning on saying the word “treaty” a million times, so maybe it’s like some of the more politically-focused episodes of The Clone Wars? Have y’all watched that show? It’s pretty brilliant.

Sorry, I’ve got Star Wars on the brain, given how close we are getting to The Last Jedi release. But we aren’t here to talk about Obi-Wan, Ahsoka, and the Chosen One. We’re here to talk about Thom, and Min, and the Dragon Reborn. This week we also get a few revelations about Moiraine’s backstory, and we find out that one of my little theories from a few weeks ago was pretty on point. Oh Galad. This is where the path of Lawful Good leads you.

The morning finds Thom going about the halls of the Stone, juggling for the servants who are hard at work cleaning up the remnants of the battle. He’s exhausted because he’s been at it all night, but he juggles for a group of women and men and drops a few sentences to get them musing about why none of the High Lords noticed the suspicious barges which brought in the Trollocs. Thom knows well that rumors spread, and the more the commoners turn away from the High Lords, the more they will look to Rand, the Dragon Reborn, for leadership and salvation.

He’s interrupted by the majhere, who threatens to find work for a gleeman’s idle hands, too, but he distracts her with a surprise flower from up his sleeve and manages to sneak off. Limping back to his room, he thinks about how he is too old for battles and staying up all night, and that he should retire to a farm somewhere. His daydream about a simple life is interrupted, however, by finding Moiraine in his rooms. He greets her cordially as he hangs up his cloak, trying not to look about to see if there’s anything incriminating in his room that she might have seen. She puts her hand on his knee and he feels a ripple of cold, as she expresses her regrets that there had been no Healer present when he took the injury. He replies that it wouldn’t have helped, since a Halfman did it, but Moiraine already knew all about that.

What else does she know? he wondered. Turning to pull his lone chair out from behind the table, he bit back an oath. He felt as if he had had a good night’s sleep, and the pain was gone from his knee. His limp remained, but the joint was more limber than it had been since he was injured. The woman didn’t even ask if I wanted it. Burn me, what is she after? He refused to flex the leg. If she would not ask, he would not acknowledge her gift.

“An interesting day, yesterday,” she said as he sat down.

Thom remarks that he doesn’t find Trollocs and Halfmen particularly interesting, but Moiraine isn’t talking about that. Instead she brings up the fact that the High Lord Tedosian “accidentally” shot and killed High Lord Carleon during a hunt, and that Tedosian almost immediately fell ill after drinking wine his wife gave him. Thom plays ignorant, but inwardly he’s shocked that Moiraine somehow knows that he had a hand in orchestrating this conflict between two High Lords who weren’t at all loyal to Rand. He insists that he pays little attention to such things, that they have nothing to do with a simple gleeman.

Her smile was just short of laughter, but she spoke as if reading from a page. “Thomdril Merrilin. Called the Gray Fox, once, by some who knew him, or knew of him. Courtbard at the Royal Palace of Andor in Caemlyn. Morgase’s lover for a time, after Taringail died. Fortunate for Morgase, Taringail’s death. I do not suppose she ever learned he meant her to die and himself to be Andor’s first king. But we were speaking of Thom Merrilin, a man who, it was said, could play the Game of Houses in his sleep. It is a shame that such a man calls himself a simple gleeman. But such arrogance to keep the same name.”

Thom masked his shock with an effort. How much did she know? Too much if she knew not another word. But she was not the only one with knowledge. “Speaking of names,” he said levelly, “it is remarkable how much can be puzzled out from a name. Moiraine Damodred. The Lady Moiraine of House Damodred, in Cairhien. Taringail’s youngest half-sister. King Laman’s niece. And Aes Sedai, let us not forget. An Aes Sedai aiding the Dragon Reborn since before she could have known that he was more than just another poor fool who could channel. An Aes Sedai with connections high in the White Tower, I would say, else she’d not risk what she has. Someone in the Hall of the Tower? More than one, I’d say; it would have to be. News of that would shake the world. But why should there be trouble? Perhaps it’s best to leave an old gleeman tucked away in his hole in the servants’ quarters. Just an old gleeman playing his harp and telling his tales. Tales that harm no one.”

Moiraine shows no surprise at his knowledge, remarking that speculation is dangerous, that she does not use her House name by choice, as it had a bad reputation even before Laman cut down Avendoraldera, and that it has grown even worse since then. She tells Thom about Elayne and Nynaeve’s intention to travel to Tanchico, and suggests that they could do well with his knowledge and services, in such a place. When Thom doesn’t rise to the bait of being tasked to protect Morgase’s daughter, Moiraine reminds him of his reason for leaving Andor, of the fate of his nephew Owyn, who was taken by the Red Ajah and gentled, then driven from his home by his neighbors.

Pained and angry, and no longer able to hide it, Thom demands to know why she would say such things to him. He sees both sympathy and regret on Moiraine’s face, although he’s certain both are feigned. She tells him that, if he helps the girls, she will give him the name of the Red sisters who gentled Owyn on the spot instead of taking him back to Tar Valon, as all male channelers are supposed to be, as well as the name of the one who gave them their orders.

He drew an uneven breath. “What good will their names do me?” he asked in a flat voice. “Aes Sedai names, wrapped in all the power of the White Tower.”

“A skilled and dangerous player of the Game of Houses might find a use for them,” she replied quietly. “They should not have done what they did. They should not have been excused for it.”

“Will you leave me, please?”

“I will teach you that not all Aes Sedai are like those Reds, Thom. You must learn that.”

“Please?”

He manages not to cry until she leaves, thinking of how he had been playing the Game of Houses instead of getting back to Owyn in time. He thinks, too, of Elayne, who he bounced on his knee when she was a baby. He thinks how well Moiraine has played him—he can protect Elayne and get the names, but he will have to leave Rand alone in Aes Sedai hands, just as he left Owyn.

Meanwhile, in Tar Valon, Min is busy keeping up the appearance of Elmindreda, the pretty, flirtatious girl she is pretending to be as she spies undercover in Tar Valon. She finds a bench on which to do her embroidery—which she hates and is terrible at—as a cover for watching people. She is enjoying the weather, however, when someone says her name, startling her.

It turns out to be Gawyn, accompanied by his brother Galad. At her asking, Gawyn has kept the secret of who she really is, but that doesn’t stop him from teasing her. Eventually, however, he explains why they have interrupted her. Gawyn wants her to comment on a book; more precisely, he hopes that she will tell his brother that it is all nonsense.

She examined the book. The Way of the Light, by Lothair Mantelar. Opening it, she read at random. “Therefore abjure all pleasure, for goodness is a pure abstract, a perfect crystalline ideal which is obscured by base emotion. Pamper not the flesh. Flesh is weak but spirit is strong; flesh is useless where spirit is strong. Right thought is drowned in sensation, and right action hindered by passions. Take all joy from rightness, and rightness only.” It seemed to be dry nonsense.

Min plays the silly fool, talking about how she has no time to read when just doing her hair takes so long. She takes pleasure in messing with him, as the two men argue about the merits of the philosophies espoused by Lothair, the founder of the Children of the Light. Eventually Gawyn, observing that “Elmindreda” often gets to talk with the Amyrlin, asks if the Amyrlin ever mentions Egwene or Elayne. Min is inwardly furious with him for linking Elmindreda so closely with women who are known to be friends of Min, but she keeps up her persona and Galad tells Gawyn not to bother her.

Suddenly, Min is distracted by the sight of Logain, walking in the distance with an Accepted at his side. Min has seen the man before, but this time she has a vision of him surrounded by a blue and gold halo, which shouts to her of power and glory to come. Gawyn remarks that he pities Logain, and that it would be a mercy just to let him die, but Galad reminds him of all the deaths Logain caused. Min interrupts, pretending to be faint at the sight of Logain, and while Gawyn offers to help her, she manages to shake Galad off. As soon as they’re out of sight she tells Gawyn off for asking about Elayne and Egwene, and Gawyn apologizes, though he points out that he can’t understand why it’s wrong, since she won’t explain it to him.

He also tells her how not knowing where Egwene and his sister are is eating him up inside, and Galad too. Galad has even been drinking in taverns with the Whitecloaks, and the book was given to him by Eamon Valda, the commander of the Children who are camped on the other side of the river. He asks if Min knows where the girls are, if she would tell him if she did, but she avoids the question.

Min goes straight to the Amyrlin’s chambers, feeling too impatient to wait until the Amyrlin “chanced to bump into her.” She doesn’t find anyone in the antechamber, and goes right to the Amyrlin’s door and puts her head in. Leane and the Amyrlin are sitting at the table, and Min gets dagger-like looks from both of them.

The Amyrlin tells her off for coming directly up, uninvited, and threatens to make Laras her keeper. The news about Logain suddenly seems less important, but it’s not really why Min has come, just her excuse, so she goes ahead and tells them what she saw and what it means.

Siuan remarks that it’s one more thing to worry about, alongside starvation in Cairhien, a missing sister in Tarabon, Trolloc raids increasing in the Borderlands, and the so-called Prophet preaching in Ghealdan that the Dragon has been reborn as a Shienaran lord. The only good news she’s had is that the Blight has retreated, pulling back almost two miles from stones marking its usual boundary.

Still, she asks why Min came to tell her this so immediately, and Min steels herself to point out that nothing she has viewed since the initial revelation of the disaster the Aes Sedai will face has been very important, and that there is no reason she shouldn’t go. She tells them that Rand might need her, especially if he has taken the Stone.

The Amyrlin replies with a list of useful visions Min has had, including finding a thieving stableman, letting them know that one of the novices was trying to get pregnant by one of the guards, and of course the information about Logain. The Amyrlin is certain Min’s visions will lead her to the Black Ajah eventually, and in the meantime they are more than paying their way.

Min then asks if she will at least tell Galad and Gawyn about Egwene and Elayne, or make up some more believable story than the one about the farm. Siuan responds that everyone but the boys believes the tale, and that they will simply have to be put to more work until they stop thinking about things that don’t concern them—Min too, if she doesn’t stop poking her nose where it doesn’t belong.

But Min refuses to yield, asking if the Amyrlin even knows that they’re alright. There has been no word, not from pigeons or even a man on horseback, only rumors. But the Amyrlin tells her to assume that Rand is well until she hears otherwise. And then there is a knock on the door.

They need a pretense for Min being in the Amyrlin’s study and settle for Elmindreda getting a harsh scolding for dropping by unannounced, as a novice delivers two new messages. They send her away at once, and the first messages reveals more bad news—Mazrim Taim has escaped, taken away in the night after two Aes Sedai were killed.

The Amyrlin orders Leane to assemble a dozen Aes Sedai and a thousand guards to go after him, and commands that Taim be gentled as soon as he is caught, despite the law. Leane is shocked, but obeys the orders.

The Amyrlin picked up the second bone cylinder and snapped it in two with a sharp crack to get the message out. “Good news at last,” she breathed, a smile blooming on her face. “Good news. ‘The sling has been used. The shepherd holds the sword.’”

“Rand?” Min asked, and Siuan nodded.

“Of course, girl. The Stone has fallen. Rand al’Thor, the shepherd, has Callandor. Now I can move. Leane, I want the Hall of the Tower convened this afternoon. No, this morning.”

The Amyrlin explains to Min that things have changed. What she has known before now about Rand has been secret. Now she can tell everyone that the Stone of Tear has fallen and a man has drawn Callandor, fulfilling the prophecy. She can now announce that the Dragon has been reborn, and involve the Tower, involve herself, with him. Openly.

“Are we doing the right thing, Mother?” Leane said abruptly. “I know… If he has Callandor, he must be the Dragon Reborn, but he can channel, Mother. A man who can channel. I only saw him once, but even then there was something strange about him. Something more than being ta’veren. Mother, is he so very different from Taim when it comes down to it?”

“The difference is that he is the Dragon Reborn, daughter,” the Amyrlin said quietly. “Taim is a wolf, and maybe rabid. Rand al’Thor is the wolfhound we will use to defeat the Shadow. Keep his name to yourself, Leane. Best not to reveal too much too soon.”

“As you say, Mother,” the Keeper said, but she still sounded uneasy.

Siuan sends her off to make preparations and remarks that she wishes Moiraine had told her more. But when Min asks why she didn’t, why they haven’t heard from her before now, the Amyrlin tells her that Moiraine has always played her own game. If Min wants to know why, she has to ask her.

Meanwhile, far away on some farm, Sahra Covenry bemoans her lot in life—being stuck working in the dirt was not the idea she had for her time as a novice in the White Tower. She is daydreaming about Galad and having him as her Warder when she’s startled by an Aes Sedai wearing a cloak and deep hood shadowing her face. She asks Sahra about the woman she took to see the Amyrlin, Elmindreda, and wants to know everything Sahra heard or saw. When the novice replies that she heard nothing, and was immediately sent away, she is suddenly wracked by pain. When it passes, the Aes Sedai repeats that she wants to know everything, every person Elmindreda spoke to, every nuance and expression. Sahra offers that she spoke to Gawyn, then begins to cry, knowing that she can’t offer enough information to satisfy her inquisitor.

She’s right, and when the torture is over, the mysterious Aes Sedai leaves her for dead.

 

This chapter seems a good moment for me to retrace what I know about the royal and royal-adjacent families of Andor, some of which is only revealed in the Glossaries and not actually in the narrative itself, some of which Moiraine or Thom tell us here, and some of which we learned in The Dragon Reborn.

Taringail Damodred was married to Tigraine, who was daughter-heir to the throne of Andor (and very possibly had some connection to the Aiel) before her brother was lost in the Blight and she herself subsequently disappeared. They are the parents of Galad. But Taringail had big ambitions, so when Tigraine disappeared, he found a way to marry Morgase and still become the husband of the Queen of Andor. They had Elayne and Gawyn. We now know from Moiraine that he intended for her to die somehow so that he could become Andor’s first King.

Laman Damodred, uncle to both Moiraine and Taringail, was the dude who cut down the tree and started the Aiel War.

So, if Moiraine is Taringail’s half-sister, that makes her aunt to Galad. Or half-aunt, I guess. If Rand is Tigraine’s child, as I suspect from what we learned in The Dragon Reborn, then that also makes Rand and Galad half-brothers through the same mother, just as Elayne and Gawyn are Galad’s half-siblings through their father. I don’t believe that we’ve been told how Taringail died, although I might have missed it.

If there is one thing I have learned reading and analyzing The Wheel of Time, it is that very few details are incidental. You can encounter a character or a reference to an event in one book, and it can be a book or two later before you find out that that event or person is very important in the scheme of things. I think that’s why I caught the detail about Galad swathing himself in white foreshadowing a move to the Children of the Light. It could have meant something else, but the symbolism was very specific, and so is Jordan’s writing.

Also because it makes sense, personality-wise. The Children are dedicated to fighting the Shadow and protecting good people from evil, and yet they have been nothing but villains from the moment we met them. As a whole they are pedantic, short-sighted, and so convinced of their own righteousness that they never question themselves. This small excerpt from Lothair’s book is a great illustration of that, as he suggests that emotion and pleasure are to be rejected, and that righteousness exists best when not coupled with emotion. While he is right that emotion can cloud one’s judgments, he is wrong to think that all emotion is a hindrance, and he is certainly wrong to say that goodness is a pure abstract. Good is more than a set of facts and figures, or an immutable definition. Such rigidity of thinking does not allow for the complexities of real life, for adaptation in the face of new questions, or changing times.

I am reminded of what Min said of Galad when she viewed him: “He will always do what is right, no matter who it hurts.”

This question of knowing what is the right thing to do applies to more than just Galad and the Whitecloaks. Moiraine and Siuan, for example, have proceeded along a course they believe is the only chance for humanity, but if others knew what they have done, what they are doing, they would almost certainly be stilled. Many Aes Sedai would think that the Dragon, even the true Dragon, should be gentled, given the threat the taint on saidin poses to the world. And you can see where they are coming from. Perrin and Mat have been struggling with the choice of whether or not to go home to face the Whitecloaks, and Rand clearly never felt he had the ability to make that choice, even if he wanted to.

Moiraine has been frustrated with Rand because he won’t follow her advice, won’t take the logical course of action she has laid out for him. But I wonder if this theme of following a different instinct, a different path than that which pure logic and planning dictate, will be an important theme throughout the books, and for Rand’s journey in particular. Sure, there are prophecies and schemes, but ultimately there is no road map to being the Dragon Reborn, especially in this age, what with the taint upon saidin, and the seals on the Dark One’s prison falling apart, and a horde of powerful, Shadow-aligned channelers from a by-gone age just waiting to finish what they started in Lews Therin’s time. Despite what Moiraine and Siuan think, despite what anyone wants, Rand is going to have to forge his own path. And I like to think that he, like Frodo before him, is blessed with the kind of honest, pure heart that will see him through. Granted it won’t be that simple, and the complexities of his life and the trauma that he will experience will overlay some of that, but the core of Rand will still be there, I think.

How this theme of following the good in your heart will apply to a world that seems more driven by fate than free will is yet to be seen. I find it very interesting to see how people like Siuan, who are more educated in how the Pattern works that most, engage with the idea of fate vs. logic vs. emotional choice. For example, she believes that they must work to ensure that the prophecies are brought about, which shows faith in the directives of the Pattern, but it’s not quite a “the Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills” approach. She doesn’t understand that Min’s visions always come true, either, and believes she can divert fate despite Min’s assurances to the contrary. Moiraine, similarly, will quote that bit about the Wheel weaving at others, but grows frustrated whenever she cannot fully control people or events. I mean, it’s an entirely understandable emotional response, and she is human after all. But it’s still technically a hypocrisy, as she pointed out to Siuan way back in the beginning of The Great Hunt when she reminded the Amyrlin of the futility of trying to control powerful ta’veren.

Galad turning to the Whitecloaks in this moment is a response to his inability to deal with his own emotions, as Gawyn points out to Min. I think that the Whitecloaks must offer a very clear sense of stability, and I can see how the black-and-white (heh) clarity of the Children of the Light would be especially appealing right now, in a moment when he is feeling worried and helpless, and is convinced that the Amyrlin—a powerful woman who he has been raised to respect, no doubt, as the child of the Queen of Andor—is lying to him. The laws he has followed are letting him down, so he’s looking for new ones to guide him.

I was touched by Thom’s emotional breakdown this week. Of course, we’ve known about Owyn for some time, but after the initial revelation and Thom’s sacrifice for Rand and Mat back in The Eye of the World, it helps to be reminded that this is not only a thematic parallel, but an important emotional arc that is far from resolved for Thom. I was also unaware that gentling was only supposed to happen in the Tower itself, so that revelation seems important—doubly so now that Siuan has issued orders to have Mazrim Taim gentled, despite the law and Leane’s shock over the decision. It makes me wonder what more there is to Owyn’s story. Was he important in some way? Was he a just casualty of some other Red (or Black) Ajah plot or machination of some kind? Or is this story simply here to remind us that the Aes Sedai are not always good, that some of the suspicion against them is warranted after all?

Some part of me suspects that Elaida was involved somehow, perhaps the one giving the orders to the sisters who found Owyn. Partly that’s because it’s almost definitely her interrogating Sahra (would an Aes Sedai who isn’t Black Ajah use the power to kill? Could she, given the Three Oaths?) and my brain wants to connect everything in this chapter. But it’s also because we know that Elaida has been manipulating things with Morgase and Elayne because of her vision. And we also know that Thom was a big player of the Game of Houses, as well as a lover of Morgase, which means that he would have had a lot of influence at court. Perhaps Elaida wanted to get rid of this man whose meddling might disturb her own plans, just as Moraine (and with the same tool, no less) is doing now.

It’s rare for us to see such emotion from Thom, since he isn’t often the perspective character, and it’s nice to be reminded of our own emotional connection to him. I wonder if Moiraine will succeed in convincing him that she is good and trustworthy, or if this manipulation will just make him more angry and more suspicious.

I’m also very curious about this new development with Logain. It may be that we have to wait quite a while to find out what Min’s vision means, but there’s also a chance it has something to do with whatever attack comes to the White Tower, which I suspect will be part of the climactic ending in this book.

The news about Mazrim Taim’s escape gave me pause—it hadn’t occurred to me that Joiya and Amico could both be telling the truth. I mean, I don’t think Joiya was being truthful when she said she had come back to the Light, but she may have had reason to give a partial truth to the girls. It’s also still unclear to me how being Black Ajah affects the Three Oaths, so perhaps she had to tell the truth? Or some part of it? In any case, I didn’t see this one coming and I can’t imagine having a false Dragon loose is going to be good for Rand, even if Liandrin and co. aren’t involved.

Along with that particular piece of bad news, Siuan gives us that long list of other bad things she’s recently had pigeons about, wars and problems around the world. The only thing that has me really concerned, however, is the one bit of news she calls good—the Blight pulling back. Why would the Blight do that? There’s no good reason for it to happen; very clearly, the world is only getting more chaotic and more vulnerable to the Shadow as the events surrounding the Dragon’s return get underway. On the other hand, I can think of one big and bad reason for the Blight to pull back.

You know how ocean waters often recede before a tsunami?

Yeah. I’d put an Andoran gold crown down on this being the biggest warning sign that Siuan is missing, and that the Blight pulling back is the Shadow gathering its strength for something big. Not sure what, exactly. Maybe an attack on the Tower? Maybe coming after Rand? We still don’t know, and it might be a while until we do. But it’s definitely coming.

Next week we cover Chapters 18-20, following Perrin and company into the Ways and Nynaeve and Elayne onto a ship of the Sea Folk. I love the ocean and old nautical stuff, so I’m pretty excited about this one.

Sylas K Barrett is not kidding. His social media handles are all variations of @inland.sailor.

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