Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: Elayne Discovers One Secret and Misses Another in Robert Jordan’s The Shadow Rising (Part 14)

Welcome back again to our read of The Shadow Rising!

This chapter is really wonderful. Although our time in the Stone has given our characters lots of opportunities to chat with each other and examine their feelings, “Winds Rising” really has the feeling of the Locked Room trope that’s so common in TV especially, where characters are stuck in a room or an elevator or something and forced to spend the entire time talking to each other. Here on the Wavedancer, Thom can play the simple gleeman, but he can’t avoid being studied the way he could in the Stone, can’t slip away when people get too interested in him, as he did with the majhere, or make himself seem more innocuous by taking a room in the servant’s quarters. Everyone is in close quarters (I believe that phrase even has a nautical origin), and they will have an ability to study each other that they might not have, before.

And of course, Jorin’s secret is a more literal example of the problem; she can’t avoid being seen by Nynaeve and Elayne, and one moment of channeling is all it takes to be caught.

Nynaeve and Elayne scramble up the ladder behind Coine and Jorin, the ship still buffeted by waves as the crew on deck rushes about checking for damage to the ship. Nynaeve and Elayne are certain that Rand is responsible, and Elayne remarks what a pickle they’ll be in if he’s damaged their ship. Nynaeve responds that the Elayne’s second letter probably touched a nerve. She’s about to go on when she spots two men on deck—Thom Merrilin and Juilin Sandar, the thief-catcher who betrayed them to Liandrin.

Coine tells them that the ship is undamaged, and then explains that the two men have asked for passage. The gleeman has asked to go to Tanchico, and the thief-catcher to wherever Nynaeve and Elayne are going. She vouches for Juilin, saying that he is a good man she’s worked with before, and although custom dictates that she cannot refuse them passage, she offers to do so if the Aes Sedai want her to.

Nynaeve decides that they will hear what the men have to say, first, and her tone does not bode well for either of them.

“Perhaps I should do the talking,” Elayne suggested, gently but firmly. “That way, you can watch to see if they are hiding anything.” She did not say that that way Nynaeve’s temper would not get the better of her, but the wry smile the other woman gave her said she had heard it anyway.

“Very well, Elayne. I will watch them. Perhaps you might study how I keep calm. You know how you are when you become overwrought.”

Elayne had to laugh.

Looking at Thom, Elayne is sure she’s never seen him before he showed up in the Stone, and yet there is something familiar about him. She can’t think how that could be, since only bards would have be entertaining in her mother’s court. She decides to speak to Sandar first, and after the two carefully banter back and forth about their history, Sandar admits that Lan came and rousted him out of his house, gave him a large amount of gold, and ordered him to accompany them. He also says that Lan came “on behalf of a shepherd,” and that both men made it very clear what would happen to Sandar if the women did not return safely. Thom, meanwhile, admits that he was sent by Moiraine, although he does not use her name any more than Sandar used Rand’s. Both men, aware that the sailmistress will not allow them passage without Nynaeve and Elayne’s say-so, point out that they have skills that can be useful, and Thom points out that he has been to Tanchico before.

“That familiarity tickled at Elayne’s mind again. Before she realized what she was doing, she reached up and tugged at one of his long white mustaches. He gave a start, and she clapped both hands to her mouth, flushing crimson. “Forgive me. I… I seemed to remember doing that before. I mean… I am sorry.” Light, why did I do that? He must think me an imbecile.

“I … would remember,” he said, very stiffly.

Elayne hopes that he is not too offended, although she can’t tell by his expression. Both she and Nynaeve are vexed at the way Lan, Rand, and Moiraine have manipulated them, but decide to grant their permission, provided that the men promise to obey their orders. Thom bridles under such restrictions, but they give him no choice, and send the men off to tell the Sailmistress once the promises have been extracted.

Elayne is concerned that Nynaeve is being to hard on the men, but Nynaeve reminds her that Thom knows they are not full Aes Sedai, which means Sandar will probably know soon, as well. She also suggests that it is better that the men don’t know about the Black Ajah until they have to, and that they will have to disguise Sandar lest Liandrin and the others recognize him.

Elayne feels like they can at least trust Thom, but he was sent by Moiraine, and Nynaeve trusts her only slightly more than she trusts Liandrin. She reminds Elayne that Moiraine would do anything to them if it helped with her plan for Rand.

“Moiraine knows what has to be done, Nynaeve.” For once she was reluctant to admit that. What Moiraine knew had to be done might well speed Rand on his way toward Tarmon Gai’don that much faster. On his way toward death, perhaps. Rand balanced against the world. It was silly—foolish and childish—that those scales should tremble so evenly for her. Yet she did not dare make them swing, even in her mind, because she was not sure which way she would send them. “She knows it better than he does,” she said, making her voice firm. “Better than we.”

“Perhaps.” Nynaeve sighed. “But I do not have to like it.”

The crew begins to cast off at that moment, and although the Sailmistress has managed to find a Tairen pilot to guide them downriver, as is the law, the man really doesn’t have anything to do but sit there looking dejected as the crew pays no attention to him at all. Nynaeve goes down to see their cabin, but Elayne is happy to stay on deck, enjoying the kind of adventure the Daughter-Heir of Andor normally would never be able to have. Once their finally make it out of the maze of the delta, the Tairen pilot is paid and sent ashore, and the Wavedancer takes to the sea. Elayne is a little alarmed by all the Sea Folk women taking off their blouses and going as bare chested as the men (so is Sandar) but she reminds herself about different customs.

She is watching dolphins when she notices Thom Merrilin watching them too, and, wanting to figure out why he feels so familiar, begins talking to him. They discuss how free the dolphins are, and Elayne asks Thom if he means to compose the ballad of Rand, just as Loial is writing a book to chronicle the story. But Thom tells her that it’s unlikely either of their works will be remembered into the next age, perhaps no more than a seed. Even Rand might not end up the hero in the stories that are told generations and generations from now.

Elayne questions that it has to happen that way, pointing out that no one doubts that Artur Hawkwing conquered nearly the whole world. Thom acknowledges the empire, but points out other aspects of the story that couldn’t possibly be true, such as fighting one hundred of an opposing army’s best men, one by one.

“The books say he did.”

“There isn’t time between sunrise and sunset for one man to fight a hundred duels, girl.” She almost stopped him short—girl? She was Daughter-Heir of Andor, not girl—but he had the bit in his teeth. “And that is only a thousand years back. Go back further, back to the oldest tales I know, from the Age before the Age of Legends. Did Mosk and Merk really fight with spears of fire, and were they even giants? Was Elsbet really queen of the whole world, and was Anla really her sister? Was Anla truly the Wise Counselor, or was it someone else? As well ask what sort of animal ivory comes from, or what kind of plant grows silk. Unless that comes from an animal, too.”

Elayne points out that he could find out about silk and ivory from the Sea Folk, and is surprised when Thom comments that she is “practical and to the point” just like her mother. He also explains that Sea Folk do not know either, that they are not allowed to see any more of the lands beyond the Waste than a few harbors where they are permitted to land, and that no other ships besides those of the Sea Folk are permitted to land at all. Elayne tells him that there might be more knowledge than Thom realizes on this ship, since before they came aboard to someplace called Shara, which lies east of Mayene and therefore must be beyond the Waste. Only after he reacts with interest does she realize that she’s let him know that they convinced the Sailmistress to alter her intended course, and tells herself off for carelessness, knowing that such a slip might endanger her very life in Tanchico, and her companions’ as well. But she is less worried about Thom, who she sees as just a nice old man.

That sense of familiarity persists, however, and she feels like he has taken an almost fatherly tone towards her. She’s about say something else, when suddenly her attention is attracted by something else, and she hurries away. Back in the stern, Jorin is standing behind two men at the ships wheel, and Elayne can see that she is embracing saidar.

Elayne stopped short of the sterndeck to study what she was doing. The flows of Air and Water the Windfinder handled were cable-thick, yet her weaving was intricate, almost delicate, and it reached as far as the eye could see across the waters, a web drawn across the sky. The wind rose higher, higher; the wheelmen strained, and Wavedancer flew through the sea. The weaving stopped, the glow of saidar vanished, and Jorin slumped at the rail, leaning on her hands.

Jorin tells Elayne that she hadn’t intended to display her ability at all, but that Coine said they must go quickly, for the Coramoor, and Elayne realizes that this is why the Sea Folk ships don’t carry Aes Sedai. She tells Jorin that the Tower won’t try to stop women from channeling, even if they aren’t Aes Sedai, but Jorin answers that the Tower will still try to bind them to itself, to interfere with their lives on the sea, where they are supposed to be free of the landsmen. As much as Elayne wants to deny it, she know that most women channelers who are discovered find themselves at the Tower at least for a time, whatever their own wishes.

Jorin tells her that it is only some Windfinders who can channel, and that they send a few of their less strong girls to the Tower so that the Aes Sedai won’t be suspicious. When Nynaeve and Elayne first named themselves, Jorin worried that they knew what she was, and then when they didn’t say anything, she hoped that perhaps they weren’t Aes Sedai at all, despite their rings. And now the Tower knows everything.

Elayne tells her that she can’t promise to keep the secret, but that she will do everything in her power to keep it from people who would harm Jorin, and to use any influence Elayne has to protect her. She realizes that there must have been a damane on the other ship, and Jorin, impressed with Elayne’s insight admits that there was. They had heard about the Seanchan ships and the strange oaths they demanded of people, but although Wavedancer easily outran the other vessel, the damane broke two of the ship’s masts and the Seanchan boarded them with swords. Although firelighting is difficult for Jorin, she was able to start fires on the Seanchan vessel and Toram led the crew to drive the Seanchan back. As the Seanchan struggled to save their ship, Wavedancer was able to limp away.

Jorin expressed regret for the loss of the Seanchan vessel, and for the damane, who she did not realize was a captive. She would have wanted to save her, if she had known.

Elayne, seeing how sad Jorin has been made by the story, tries to distract her by asking why the Sea Folk always call ships he.

“The men will give you a different answer,” the Windfinder said, smiling, “speaking of strength and grandness and the like as men will, but this is the truth. A ship is alive, and he is like a man, with a true man’s heart.” She rubbed the rail fondly, as if stroking something alive, something that could feel her caress. “Treat him well and care for him properly, and he will fight for you against the worst sea. He will fight to keep you alive even after the sea has long since given him his own deathstroke. Neglect him, though, ignore the small warnings he gives of danger, and he will drown you in a flat sea beneath a cloudless sky.”

Elayne hoped Rand was not as fickle as that. Then why does he hop about, glad to see me go one minute and sending Juilin Sandar after me the next? She told herself to stop thinking about him. He was a long way away. There was nothing to be done about him now.

She looks for Thom, but he is gone. Elayne thinks that she had almost found the key to the puzzle of this man, but she is determined to figure it out before they reach Tanchico. Still, there is time, but less than she thinks, because when she asks Jorin, the Windfinder replies that it will be about ten days, which shocks Elayne. But the Sea Folk ships are the fastest in the world, and there is Jorin’s skill to be accounted for as well.

Elayne asks if Jorin will teach her what she was just doing, and Jorin is confused that an Aes Sedai would need to be taught. Elayne tells her that she has never woven a flow even half so thick.

The Windfinder stared a moment more, no longer in amazement, but as if trying to fix Elayne’s face in her mind. Finally she kissed the fingers of her right hand and pressed them to Elayne’s lips. “If it pleases the Light, we both shall learn.”

 

Thom probably didn’t expect Elayne to have even a passing memory of him, and I do have to wonder what he was thinking when she pulled on his mustache. You have to love the dramatic irony when he says he would remember if he’d ever met Elayne, because, of course, he does remember. It’s a very Aes Sedai response, in a way—it sounds like he’s denying having met Elayne but nothing he has actually said is a lie. It’s a reminder that the political maneuverings of the Aes Sedai are not that different from those of Daes Dae’mar, or those of the High Lords for that matter. Different goals, perhaps, and the Aes Sedai are supposed to be more concerned with protecting the world than personal power or the legacy of their families. But in the end it’s funny to think of how much suspicion and hatred there is for the Aes Sedai when everyone else seems to be playing almost the same game.

As a Cairheinen herself, I wonder if Moiraine was predisposed to be especially good at manipulating people and getting around the Three Oaths, since she would have been raised by nobles playing the Game of Houses. I also find it interesting that Elayne herself is so guileless. Surely her mother would have wanted her to learn how to recognize political machinations in others, how to appeal to people and maneuver them to her needs without them knowing that they’re being maneuvered. Elayne certainly seems to have absorbed her mother’s lessons in kindness and generosity and how they build loyalty, which is great, but there must be more to it than that. It makes me wish we had seen more of the advice Elayne gave to Rand about governing Tear and dealing with the High Lords.

I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Elayne as we spend more and more time with her POV. She and Nynaeve make interesting foils to each other, both when they disagree (such as over money and how to address it, or how patient one should be) as well as when their friendship seems to shine through, as it does when they share that little joke about who will talk to Sandar and Thom. Like most of the relationships in The Wheel of Time, a lot of Elayne and Nynaeve’s friendship has been built “off screen,” so it’s interesting to see how much closer they are now. Nynaeve would never make fun of herself in such a way to someone she didn’t consider a close friend.

Perhaps it really is just Elayne’s nature. She is a warm and kind person, and we see it in her instincts to distract from sadness and cultivate smiles, as she does with both Jorin and Thom in this chapter. True, one of the reasons she wants Thom to smile is because of that familiarity, but I do think it’s more than that, just as the way she paid the carriage driver extra after Nynaeve cursed at him was more than just practicality. She didn’t need that carriage driver to not be upset with them, and she knew her kind words would soothe him even without the extra cash. But she also knows that the lives of the Tairen working-class are hard, that their taxes are high and that Nynaeve’s were far from the first overly-harsh words that man had heard from those he worked for.

And how wonderful to see such traits from a character who is also regarded to be a straight-forward and practical person. I think we see a lot of the same personality in Gawyn, as well as in Morgase herself, but so often (in both stories and real life) practicality is expected to be paired with being jaded or bitter in some way, as though the only practical way to exist in the world is to accept that it is generally bad and out to get you. That most people are dishonest, that most things go wrong. On the surface, it’s Nynaeve’s attitude that appears to be practical—no need to give more money to people you’ve already paid to do a job, you can’t trust Thom because you know Moiraine was involved in his choice to come along. But we know that Nynaeve is so often ruled by her anger or her fear. That she deflects her anger at her situation onto Moiraine, even though some part of her knows Moiraine is not at fault for Egwene having the spark, or for the Trollocs coming to Emond’s Field. Even Nynaeve herself seems to be starting to understand that, although it remains to be seen if she will learn to temper her reactions accordingly.

Granted, Elayne should be much more suspicious of Thom than she is. She’s writing him off as “a nice old man” with little evidence besides how he looks and maybe the warm feeling from her memories, which is a bit naive of her. Even if she doesn’t hold his association with Moiraine against him, she has to figure that someone who has seen the world as he has, who can offer them the sort of knowledge of Tanchico that he has, must be a little more than just a sweet old man.

Then again, maybe I’m letting my knowledge of Thom color my opinion of how Elayne should read him. I don’t know much about the other gleemen; perhaps some of them really are peaceful and harmless, just traveling and telling their stories and juggling for a living. Thom himself is dismissive enough over other gleemen, since he used to be a bard before whatever fight he had with Morgase.

But the Locked Room trope has manifested itself in a very literal way with the revelation of Jorin’s secret. I called it last week, but I must say I was just as moved by Elayne’s discovery as if I hadn’t already suspected that Jorin was a channeler. The Sea Folk hiding their Windfinders from the Aes Sedai is a different kind of relationship to channeling than we have seen before—so far, those who reject the White Tower were those who dislike channeling on principle, or because it is hated in their culture. So Nynaeve, for example, or anyone from Tear. For most other women it still seems to be a somewhat prestigious thing, even if it can bring conflict, like it does for Morgase with the White Cloaks. And of course we know how the Seanchan treat their channelers.

In any case, the Sea Folk relationship to channeling is a fascinating one. Jorin mentions that weaving fire is difficult for her, and I wonder if this is just because women tend to be stronger in Water and Air, or if it is because there is little use for channeling Earth and Fire in Sea Folk culture, so channelers have less training in those kinds of weaves. Perhaps Windfinders have a tendency to be strongest in the the elements their people already have a strong connection to: the traits may even be self-selecting, as girls who appeared to have lesser talents in the kind of channeling that would make good Windfinders would be sent to the White Tower anyway. I wonder what pressure would come on to Elayne or Nynaeve to tell other Aes Sedai about the Windfinders. Would someone ask about their experiences? Did Moiraine hope to learn something about the Sea Folk by sending them on this trip? We do know that Siuan would like to capture more of the Sea Folk’s secrets, as she has said as much a few times. Then again, perhaps in the coming battles Elayne or Nynaeve might see strategic advantage to enlisting the Sea Folk in the fight against the Dark One. Rand is supposed to lead all the armies of the world in Tarmon Gai’don, after all. Shouldn’t that include every woman who can channel?

I can’t decide if Nynaeve was being serious or making a joke when she suggested that the thing that shook the Stone (and the land all the way down to the docks) was Rand being upset about Elayne’s letter. I understand that no one knows what to expect of Rand, but I’ve been somewhat surprised by Moiraine’s continual assertions that he makes his decisions childishly or recklessly. It seems to go beyond the simple fact that he doesn’t have as much knowledge or experience as many of the people around him—she actually accuses him of having petty motives, or of playing at things, and it seems odd to me that no one has considered that Rand might have a very good sense of the direness of his situation, of the responsibility on his shoulders. No one except Thom, anyway.

Nynaeve has no reason to think it more likely that Rand was letting off steam as a result of Elayne’s letter than that Rand was unleashing his power for a much more serious reason. It probably was a joke, to make the whole thing seem less alarming. But it still makes me feel that Rand has a point to his secrecy—it’s not just that he doesn’t trust what Moiraine wants for him. It must be hard to open up to others, to accept counsel, when your desires and judgements aren’t taken seriously.

I was also struck by the difference between how Sandar talked about his assignment to the girls versus how Thom did it. Sandar straight up admits than Rand and Lan threatened him, while Thom’s insistence that Moiraine only asked him to come feels rather suspicious. I suppose that it could be read as him trying to convince Nynaeve that she can trust him, that he’s not a secret agent of Moiraine, but it really just felt like it made the fact that he’d been coerced really obvious. And I have to say, while I understand the girls’ reluctance to accept any help that might undermine their own authority, I don’t see why they are so shocked that Rand and Lan would want to send someone to help them. These are men who care about them, who have professed to love them, of course they would want them to have a little backup.

What was that thing that Nynaeve said to Hurin? Men always say to send for them if you need them, but when you do need one, there isn’t one to hand? Seems like this is an answer to that problem. It makes a certain amount of sense that they worry that Moiraine might try to take control from them, but they are hunting Black Ajah under the orders of the Amyrlin. It doesn’t seem likely that she’d want to do anything but keep them safe, even if she, I don’t know, also wanted Thom to spy on them for her, or something.

But I suppose that this in character for how Nynaeve, Elayne, and Egwene have been behaving the entire time; they tend to act as if they know more than they do, even when the holes in their knowledge is glaring and frightening to them. I suppose it’s the only way to tackle something as terrifying as the Black Ajah, but it still seems to make them a bit stupid, on occasion.

Perhaps that is what Moiraine is seeing in Rand as well.

Thom’s observations about how stories get lost and changed was an interesting one, and although I don’t tend to pay much attention to the hidden references to “our” age, I did catch that Mosk, Merk, and Elsbet was Moscow, America, and Queen Elisabeth, and probably the story is about what’s remembered of the Cold War. Lances of fire might be rockets of some kind. But what’s more interesting to me than picking out our history in Thom’s stories is wondering how much has been lost about the truth of Lews Therin and the origin of the taint on saidin. It’s still not been made clear exactly how this damage occurred; we know that it was in a confrontation with the Dark One at Shayol Ghul, and that only the male Aes Sedai were present in the fight, so only saidin was made vulnerable to the Dark One’s power, and not saidar.

What is unclear to me, however, is the exact purpose of this confrontation, and why the male and female Aes Sedai were separated. The way that Lews Therin is blamed for the taint suggests that there was some mistake or bad act on his part—my initial assumption has always been that Lews Therin was trying to kill the Dark One outright, rather than simply keep him at bay, and that this hubris led to the taint on saidin. It makes sense that such an attempt might be made by someone living in the Age of Legends, which produced such great works and sa’angreal that people like Lanfear, who is of Lews Therin’s time, thinks that they could be used to kill the Creator himself. However, I don’t think there is actually direct evidence that supports this idea I came up with, and I may have filled in some blanks merely from my own imagination, rather than from the narrative itself.

But perhaps that has happened in this world, too. Thom tells Elayne that it’s possible that Rand won’t even be the hero of the stories that survive into the next Age. So it’s possible that what we know of Lews Therin isn’t correct, or at least not in the way that we think it is. From the Prologue of The Eye of the World can be certain that the story of Lews Therin killing his wife and everyone in his home is true, and we know that he killed himself and created Dragonmount. But we don’t know anything about how the taint happened other than what the stories say. And as Thom points out, the stories may have changed greatly over time and retelling.

We also learn more about the lands of The Wheel of Time in this section. Shara isn’t on the maps in the beginning of The Shadow Rising—at first I thought perhaps these were the lands of the Seanchan, but then I realized that Shara is on the other side of the Waste, and the Spine of the World, east of everything on the map, while the Seanchan lands are on the other side of the seas, to the west of the edge of the map. I haven’t been paying enough attention to the maps, but looking at it now I am also struck by how the Blight is so far north. It hadn’t really registered to me, even though there is mention of it being colder in the lands of Shienar. It’s interesting to really think about the Blight being a cold place, and it puts the long winter from The Eye of the World into a new light. But the Dark One is also associated with fire, be it Ba’alzamon’s fiery chasms where his eyes and mouth should be, or the evocative name the Pit of Doom, which is so reminiscent of the volcanic Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings. I’m looking forward to learning more about this, and whether the location of Shayol Ghul affects its form or function.

So note to Sylas: read more maps!

We’re moving back to Rand next week—we’ll find out just what he did to shake the Stone so, and Portal Stones will also make a reappearance. It’s all very exciting. In the meantime, I leave you with my final thoughts:

  • Like Thom, I am very curious as to how the end of an Age is marked. Since the ages are physical things, rather than just a human categorizing of time, how do people know when a new Age has come?
  • There are more descriptions here about what a weave looks and feels like. Jorin’s weaves are described as “cable thick, intricate to the point of delicacy, and looking like a net across the sky.” It’s a very literal, physical shape that’s being described, which is a reminder of how saidar and saidin are a physical force, real matter in their own way, if different from other more earthly kinds of matter.
  • Jorin doubted that Elayne and Nynaeve were really Aes Sedai because they didn’t at once recognize her as a woman who can channel. It isn’t just about their age, there is so much that an Aes Sedai can do, can be, that they are not capable of yet. Despite their strength. And it shows the power behind those rings, that they are enough to convinced people not to doubt the girls overmuch, despite these rather obvious tells.

Sylas K Barrett is an epic fantasy enthusiast and regular contributor here at Tor.com.

citation

Back to the top of the page

26 Comments

Subscribe to this thread

Post a Comment

All comments must meet the community standards outlined in Tor.com's Moderation Policy or be subject to moderation. Thank you for keeping the discussion, and our community, civil and respectful.

Hate the CAPTCHA? Tor.com members can edit comments, skip the preview, and never have to prove they're not robots. Join now!

Our Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.