Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: The True Weapons of the Dark One in Robert Jordan’s The Shadow Rising (Part 15)

So I have been thinking a lot these past few weeks about the myriad of difficulties facing our brave heroes in the fight against the Dark One. As the Shadow rises in this, the fourth book of The Wheel of Time, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that the mistrust that the main characters feel for each other is even more dangerous than the enemies that smuggle themselves into every stronghold, no matter how fortified or well guarded. In many ways, the greatest weapon of the Dark One is not Trollocs and Myrddraal, or the Forsaken, or even bubbles of evil that burst in supernatural waves over ta’veren and those near them—the Dark One wields emotion against his enemies, sowing fear, corrupting once-pure motivations and desires, and encouraging despair in any mind he or his agents manage to touch.

And so, this week we will not cover any new chapters. Instead, we will talk about trust, and the alliances between those in the Light and those who serve the Dark.

After all, it isn’t just greed or a lust for power that drives people to become Dark Friends. With Ingtar, for example, we see someone who was driven by despair, who couldn’t see a future in which the Shadow did not win, and who became a Darkfriend not for personal gain or even to protect himself, but rather to protect Shienar and its people. Ingtar’s fall from the Light is almost still a continuation of his duty to his country, albeit a blighted, twisted version of it, and thus an example of good motivation that has been corrupted by the Dark. In fact, those motivations continue to exists enough for Ingtar to find his way back to the Light.

I’m sure Ingtar isn’t the first, and won’t be the last, Darkfriend to be swayed into becoming a Darkfriend simply because he couldn’t see another choice that ensured survival in the face of the ever-growing power of the Dark. Even Ba’alzamon/Ishamael tries to induce this kind despair in Rand—when he can’t tempt Rand to join him with promises of power and glory, he tries to drive Rand to surrender by proving how futile it is to resist the Dark, and by showing him how much worse his suffering will be if he does not come willingly.

It also shows us how easy it is for a Darkfriend to come from anywhere, and be anyone.

And then, with the revelation that the Black Ajah are real, we confirm that there are Darkfriends even among the Aes Sedai. And while the Tower has long denied this fact, one assumes that the Amyrlin, and probably others, have suspected that there might be Darkfriends among their ranks, or at least worried that their could be. The Three Oaths make it impossible for Aes Sedai to lie, but they don’t seem to have any difficulty hiding the truth, when they so desire. Moiriane and Siuan have managed to hide their knowledge of Gitara Moroso foretelling and their involvement with the Dragon reborn without the ability to tell an outright lie, after all.

So there is a lot of distrust in the White Tower. Even for those who don’t have confirmation about the Black Ajah, the rumors have existed for a while, and must affect how many women feel about their companions. Then there is the way that novices and Accepted are treated by their Aes Sedai teachers, an extremely harsh kind of discipline which includes corporal punishment and sometimes public humiliation or degradation as well. This training method is designed to prepare future Aes Sedai for the realities of the world and the war against the Dark, but it can also breed resentment and distrust among the ranks, making it difficult for Aes Sedai to work together as peers once the training is over.

The White Tower is also not immune to the moral dangers and divides of politics. The Red Ajah and the Blue are particularly hostile to one another, as Siuan makes us aware of early on in The Great Hunt. And we see a very personal example of distrust and division between the Red and the Blue in Elaida, who suspects Siuan of keeping secrets and working her own angles with Elayne, even as Elaida herself is doing the same thing.

Elaida, as we know, has had a Foretelling about the importance of the royal line of Andor in defeating the Dark One in the Last Battle. We learn this in the very first chapter of The Shadow Rising, in an excerpt which is told from Elaida’s point of view, and it specifically stated that she “had known enough even then to keep to herself.” We do not know, however, what her reasoning was in keeping the secret, and whether it was for a specific reason or a more general sense of danger, or distrust in those around her.

Elaida was still an Accepted at the time, and experiencing a Foretelling, especially when such abilities are so rare these days, must have been a frightening experience. However, it’s also possible that Elaida’s secrecy has as much to do with her ambition as it does with keeping information about the coming Tarmon Gai’don out of the wrong hands. One of her frustrations in the disappearance of Elayne is that she’s sacrificed so much of her political ambitions in order to stay close to the Andoran throne. We know that the White Tower is no more immune to political machinations, both inside and outside of Tar Valon, and personal ambition has its own way of dividing and deceiving.

Elaida doesn’t trust Siuan, because she knows she is hiding something. But I don’t think the two women ever liked each other, and I think it’s worth noting that what Siuan (and Moiraine) are doing is not really any different. Just like Elaidia, they were privy to a Foretelling, and they, too, have kept what they learned from the other Aes Sedai, for reasons of safety. Both sets of goals are actually quite in alignment, but they are working at cross purposes because they all are keeping so many secrets. Now it’s looking very likely that Elaida will make a move against Siuan, perhaps covertly, but also perhaps openly. Siuan is about to announce that the Dragon Reborn has been declared in Tear, and even if Elaida does not put together that Moiraine and Siuan have been secretly working with Rand for some time, I don’t think she’s going to trust Siuan’s judgement on how to move forward with this information.

When Siuan talked to Moiriane about their plans back in the beginning of The Great Hunt, she talked about how they might be seen as traitors to the White Tower, who would be pulled down and stilled if their actions were discovered. And even if they can keep their secrets, it is likely (we know this from Egwene’s experience in the third part of the arched ter’angreal, as well as a few other narrative suggestions) that some Aes Sedai might see the Dragon’s power as too great a threat. That they might believe that he, like any man, must be gentled before the taint destroys his mind. And if anyone is going to think that, it’s Elaida and her Red sisters, especially because Elaida already distrusts Siuan so completely.

And I just wonder what could be different if Siuan and Elaida could have known each other’s secrets. It seems like Elayne is right where she needs to be at the moment, right where the Pattern intends, but that has little to do with Siuan’s choices and more to do with the Pattern itself, I think. Elayne and Rand are interconnected, and there is little doubt in my mind that Elayne’s importance to the Last Battle has to do with the role she is playing now, both as a key member of the search for the Black Ajah as well as her personal connection to Rand, as well as in other ways we have not yet seen. But Siuan only involved Elayne because she, Egwene, and Nynaeve were the only ones Siuan knew she could trust. If Siuan knew what Elaida knew, she might have done things differently, or she might have done them the same way but with more intention.

And if Elaida knew what Siuan knew? What would change then?

Again, all this is not to say that Siuan, Moiraine, and even Elaida are necessarily wrong in their choices to keep their secrets. If the Black Ajah had found out about Elayne, if they had learned enough to find Rand before Moiriane did, the results could have been catastrophic. The presence of darkfriends and spies for the Shadow makes secrecy imperative… and it also results in division amongst the forces of Light.

But distrust in Siuan and knowledge that she is hiding something is also what is driving Galad towards the Whitecloaks. The Whitecloaks, whose sole purpose is to oppose the Dark One but who so distrustful and prejudiced against anything they can’t immediately understand that they are now being led around by the nose by Padan “Wormwood” Fain, and are caught up in enacting personal revenge plots against Perrin, who is possibly the most truly good, truly motivated by love and duty, person we have yet to encounter. The Whitecloaks are even worse than the Aes Sedai in the way they look down upon and distrust anyone outside their own ranks, and that inflexibility has slowly led them to a place where they are almost as dangerous to the Light as the actual forces of Darkness. Perhaps as an organization they will change in time, when things become clearer and the true Darkfriends begin to show themselves, but right now the Whitecloaks seem to be more of a danger to the good guys than to the bad ones.

But then, nobody really trusts the Aes Sedai. I suppose that this is really the long game of the taint on saidin. The madness of the Lews Therin and his companions and the Breaking of the World was the immediate result of the Dark One’s attack on saidin, but the long-term affects have shaped the very world that will meet the new attack. There are no male Aes Sedai to stand against the Shadow when it comes, and the ranks of power within the White Tower are further diminished as the “culling of the flock” that results from gentling men with the spark. The female Aes Sedai are weakened in strength, and isolated by the prejudice against channeling that came from the effects of the Breaking. Although no women were responsible for that catastrophe, the suspicion of channelers remains.

The three oaths were designed to help allay such suspicions, but while rulers and leaders may have been somewhat mollified by this limitation on Aes Sedai power, the oaths have also led rise to the notions that Aes Sedai women are tricky and deceitful. The wordplay they use, the way they have to avoid lies but also avoid honesty that will make them too vulnerable or powerless, makes them come off as even more cunning, and more manipulative, than a player of Daes Dae’mar. Like Obi-Wan telling Luke that Darth Vader killed his father, what they say is truth, but also misleading, and can sometimes mean something entirely different than what a listener believes.

The work of the Red Ajah also sows distrust in the White Tower. We’ve seen how it affected Thom, and even those who were more frightened of their male family members born with the spark seem to have no trouble also hating the women whose very job it is to protect them from the taint. And to be fair, the Red Ajah (at least from what we’ve seen of them so far) seem to have a general distaste of men, that perhaps comes from the work they do but also extends beyond it, to men in general. They even appear to be somewhat isolated from the other Ajah within the Tower itself, by choice or circumstance.

It is interesting to note that we know that the Red Ajah existed before the Breaking, so they must have had a different purpose when the Ajah was originally founded.

All this is to say that it’s easy to understand why Rand and Nynaeve have such a deep distrust of the Aes Sedai, and why Elayne and Egwene, though less suspicious, also have plenty of reasons to keep their own secrets and want to walk their own path, away from the Tower’s influence and control. In Nynaeve’s case there is also a lot of personal resentment, but she is still ultimately aware that Moiraine will do whatever she must, manipulate or use whomever she must, to achieve her goals. And because Moiriane doesn’t let anyone know much of what those goals are, or why she thinks things must be carried out a certain way, trust in her is left to be more of a blind trust than anything else.

Siuan and Moiraine trust each other because of their childhood friendship, of course. And Lan trusts Moiraine because of their history too… or at least he did. It’s unclear how much of that trust was specifically earned verses how much Lan ceded to her on faith, as a requirement of being her Warder. But with his new relationship to Nynaeve, that trust, blind or no, is being tested, and her trust in him as well.

Meanwhile, Rand is finding it almost impossible to trust anyone. He’s found a certain faith in Elayne, taking her counsel and letting his guard down around her. But that, as he says himself, is about being Rand the man, not Rand the Dragon Reborn, and there is no one he feels able to talk to about the burden and the choices that come with it, no one who he can ask for advice about his burgeoning power. He stands alone.

Lan seems to get this, perhaps because he can relate a little, as the uncrowned king of the lost Malkier. There has always been a bond between the two, a level of trust born from Lan training Rand in swordplay and Lan standing up for Rand against the Amyrlin, and even against Moiraine. He and Rand seem to have conspired together to have Sandar sent to help Elayne and Nynaeve. But that increased trust has also come at some cost to Lan’s relationship with Moiraine.

Once again, it makes sense that Moiraine wouldn’t trust a bunch of children with plans and strategies that she has been working on since as long as Rand has been alive. At the same time, Rand has a point when, in response to her wanting to know what the snake people beyond the doorway told him, he asks if she will confide in him in turn. They are at a stalemate, each unable to share with anyone, unable to build trust but hoping that the other will somehow change his or her mind.

And just like the standoff between Elaida and Siuan, I understand their reasoning and still can’t help wondering what would happen if Rand did confide in Moiraine. Perhaps she would be more willing to back him, even if she didn’t agree with his choices. Perhaps if she shared more of her plans and hopes with him, he’d be more more willing to take her advice. Trust is a two-way street, and one generally can’t expect something for nothing.

But of course, as much as Rand’s reasons for not trusting Moiraine seem sound, we should not forget his constant refrain that he will not be a puppet for the White Tower. He’s been saying that for three books now, and who put that idea in his head? That’s right, Ba’alzamon. Even if Ba’alzamon’s accusations about the Aes Sedai intentions for Rand were one hundred percent true—let us not forget that Bonwhin was pulled down from being Amyrlin after she tried to use Artur Hawkwing as a puppet for the Aes Sedai—the fact remains that that simple sentence has maintained itself as Rand’s primary fear. Whenever he is urged to take counsel, to open up to Moiraine, his reaction is always the same, and through this fear the Dark has prevented two of its most powerful enemies from trusting each other, or from working together meaningfully and well.

Mat, meanwhile, doesn’t trust anybody, and although some part of that seems to be his own nature, it’s probably been exacerbated by his experiences with the dagger and his connection to Mordeth. That guy was all about sowing paranoia and distrust, after all, and although he wasn’t himself an agent of the Shadow, the destruction of Aridhol was certainly a boon to the Dark One and a loss to the forces of Light. Mat’s fear of being controlled matches, or even exceeds, Rand’s, and although has yet to run from his responsibilities in this book, the need is ever-present. And no one seems able to offer him help to deal with this, except for Thom and maybe Loial, a little, because all the other characters are so judgemental of this part of his character. They deem his urge to leave as silly, flighty, or selfish, a mark of weakness in character, and so Mat has no one to help him deal with his fears or ground himself, even if he might want to.

Perrin is hiding too, of course, unable to tell the truth of his wolfbrother nature even to Faile. Even though she didn’t handle the situation well, I am very glad that Faile didn’t allow him to drive her away—he’s going to need his friends when he reaches the Two Rivers. But the trust between them is frayed now, and manifesting itself in the relations between the whole party. Chiad and Bain don’t trust Gaul anyway, and the strain between Perrin and Faile won’t help in that case.

All in all, these last few chapters have been about characters making choices, about lines being drawn and groups being pulled together. But few of these groups seem to be solid in their makeup. Elayne and Nynaeve trust each other, but not Thom or Sandar. Egwene nominally trusts Moiriane, but is more concerned with protecting Rand and continuing her own journey into learning to be a Dream Walker. Mat trusts no one. Thom trusts no one. And the Aiel follow for their own reasons—Gaul supporting Perrin for the debt he owes is the strongest, but Bain and Chiad are only traveling with Faile out of amusement and curiosity. And the Aiel only follow Rand because the believe him to be He Who Comes With the Dawn. If that should change, then Rand’s main source of support could disappear in an instant.

It’s almost as though the fate of the world hangs by a few threads.

It’s almost like the Dark One thrives on chaos.

Next week we move on to Rand, and he, too, will be setting out from the Stone and off to the next important part of his journey. At the end of Chapter 21, Rand will ask Moiraine to trust him, and she will agree to do so, for the moment. But in her mind, she will already be thinking about how she won’t let everything she worked for be lost, and how she will do whatever it takes to ensure that Rand does not go to the shadow.

It’s just interesting that she thinks antagonism is the way to prevent it.

Sylas K Barrett spent the last weekend rewatching all of the Star Wars movies. This may or may not show in his analysis this week.


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