Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: A Question of Sins in Robert Jordan’s The Shadow Rising (Part 20)

Good morning friends. This week in Reading the Wheel of Time, we’re finishing off what we learned about the history of the Aiel, the breaking, and the Bore. I’m delighted by some of these revelations and frustrated by others, but overall just proud I made it through everything. It’s easy to feel like I’m missing important themes, even after breaking this section down into three weeks of recaps. Is there such a thing as FOMO for reading?

When Rand takes his next step, he becomes Jonai again, but a younger Jonai this time, and he is running through empty streets lined by broken buildings and dead chora trees. He enters the Hall of Servants, noting the panic of those he passes, though none look at him as he goes up the stairs and slips into a room behind a plain door. Inside he finds half a dozen Aes Sedai, all women, standing together and arguing. He wonders if men will ever stand in a gathering like this again.

On the table lies what looks like a crystal sword, and also the Dragon Banner, as they argue about a Foretelling Deindre had and the Fate of the Wheel. Jonai stops listening, content to wait until they are ready to speak to him, and turns his attention to Someshta, the Nym whose body seems made of leaves and vines. Someshta has a brown, charred fissure running along his face and when he sees Jonai, he asks if he knows him.

Jonai, who has heard that most of the Nym are dead, tells Someshta that they are friends. Someshta can vaguely remember singing when Jonai prompts his memory, but too much is lost. He asks if Jonai is a Child of the Dragon, and Jonai winces, since the mistaken belief that the Da’shain Aiel served only the Dragon, rather than all Aes Sedai, has caused trouble for them.

Just then Solinda, the Aes Sedai Jonai serves, calls his name, and he goes on his knee before her. She asks if all is ready and he affirms that it is, but also that some of the Aiel wish to stay, to continue to serve.

“Do you know what happened to the Aiel at Tzora?” He nodded, and she sighed, reaching out to smooth his short hair as if he were a child. “Of course you do. You Da’shain have more courage than… Ten thousand Aiel linking arms and singing, trying to remind a madman of who they were and who he had been, trying to turn him with their bodies and a song. Jaric Mondoran killed them. He stood there, staring as though at a puzzle, killing them, and they kept closing their lines and singing. I am told he listened to the last Aiel for almost an hour before destroying him. And then Tzora burned, one huge flame consuming stone and metal and flesh. There is a sheet of glass where the second greatest city in the world once stood.

Jonai answers that the Da’shain earned the people of the city time to flee, but Solinda, rather harshly, insists that his people have a part to play yet. Jonai believes she means the things that she has given the Aiel to carry. But Solinda emphasizes to him that they must keep the Covenant, even if they lose all else.

“Of course, Aes Sedai,” he said, shocked. The Covenant was the Aiel, and the Aiel were the Covenant; to abandon the Way would be to abandon what they were. Coumin was an aberration. He had been strange since he was a boy, it was said, hardly Aiel at all, though no one knew why.

She tells him to go, to always keep moving, and to keep the Aiel safe, and is quickly drawn back into discussion with the other Aes Sedai. As Jonai leaves, he hears them telling Someshta that they have a task for the last of the Nym.

Jonai leaves and goes to find the thousands of horse-drawn wagons that have been assembled to carry the Aiel and their angreal burdens away from the city—wagons and horses must suffice, where once there would have been more technologically advanced options. He finds his children, including Adan, and his wife Alnora, at their wagon, loaded with their possessions, the Aes Sedai objects left in their charge, and its chora cuttings. He thinks that the trees are a necessary symbol, something to give the people hope.

He gives the signal for the wagons to move, and the Aiel leave Paaren Disen.

Rand comes back to himself, almost overwhelmed by the crowding of memories, and sees Muradin digging at his eyes. He steps forward.

Rand is Coumin, kneeling at the edge of plowed fields with Da’shain Aiel and Ogier. Beyond them, soldiers with shocklances stand guard. Coumin is fascinated by the men who kill—his great grandfather, Charn, has told him stories of a time before war, when there were no Myrddraal or Trollocs for soldiers to protect people from, no Forsaken, and the Dark Lord of the Grave was sealed away. Coumin can’t imagine a time when no one knew his name, or the word “war,” but he likes Charn’s stories.

But some of Charn’s stories aren’t well received, such as his claims that he once served Lanfear, and that Lanfear was not always evil. Coumin wishes that Charn would claim to have served the Dragon instead.

Someshta approaches from across the field, surrounded by butterflies. Each field has its own Nym now, and the Ogier begin to sing. The Aiel men join in next, and Someshta takes the threads of the songs and weaves them into his dance. And as they sing and dance, the seeds begin to grow into plants that will never be touched by blight or insect. Coumin feels joy in the singing.

After the singing ends, the women come to join the men, laughing congratulations, ruffling his hair and giving him kisses.

It was then that he saw the soldier, only a few steps away, watching them. He had left his shocklance and fancloth battle cape somewhere, but he still wore his helmet, like some monstrous insect’s head, its mandibles hiding his face though his black shockvisor was raised. As if realizing he still stood out, the soldier pulled off the helmet, revealing a dark young man no more than four or five years older than Coumin. The soldier’s unblinking brown eyes met his, and Coumin shivered. The face was only four or five years older, but those eyes… The soldier would have been chosen to begin his training at ten, too. Coumin was glad Aiel were spared that choosing.

The soldier tells them that, while it is not confirmed, there is a report that Lews Therin led the Companions on a strike against Shayol Ghul, and that the Bore has been sealed, with most of the Forsaken on the other side. He seems lost, somehow, observing that the people are celebrating, but that they would not want a soldier to join them.

Coumin feels as stunned as the soldier, and he suddenly wants Charn. He goes looking for him among the merrymaking, when suddenly someone hits him, knocking him down.

“The townsman spat at him. “The Forsaken are dead. Dead, do you hear? Lanfear will not protect you anymore. We will root out all of you who served the Forsaken while pretending to be on our side, and treat the lot of you as we treated that crazy old man.”

A woman pulls the man away, and Coumin, panicked, runs to find Charn. But when he finds him, Charn is dead, strung up by a rope thrown over a ridgepole and hanged.

Rand comes to himself, the light from the columns shrill and almost solid, clawing at his nerves. He sees Muradin, eyeless and veiled, apparently chewing on something.

Rand is Charn, making his way down chora-lined streets. He thinks about how a city without chora trees would be a wilderness. Charn is 25, and ready to accept the offer of marriage made to him by Nalla. It will mean transferring his service from Mierin Sedai to Zorelle Sedai, but Mierin has already given him her blessing.

Just then, Charn is bumped into and knocked down by someone, a civilian, who begins to upbraid him until the man’s companion realizes that Charn is Aiel and points it out. He begins to apologize profusely and help Charn up.

“I am not hurt, citizen,” Charn said mildly. “Truly, it was my fault.” It had been, hurrying like that. He could have injured the man. “Did I harm you? Please, forgive me.”

The man opened his mouth to protest—citizens always did; they seemed to think Aiel were made of spinglass—but before he could speak, the ground rippled under their feet. The air rippled, too, in spreading waves. The man looked about uncertainly, pulling his stylish fancloth cloak around himself and his lady so their heads seemed to float disembodied. “What is it, Da’shain?”

Other people, seeing Charn’s hair, also gather around him to ask what is going on. But Charn pays them little heed, pushing through the crowd to look up at the white spire, the Sharom.

Mierin had said today was the day. She said she had found a new source for the One Power. Female Aes Sedai and male would be able to tap the same source, not separate halves. What men and women could do united would be even greater now that there would be no differences. And today she and Beidomon would tap it for the first time—the last time men and women would work together wielding a different Power. Today.

But then he sees the Sharom begin to fall apart, slowly at first, and then with huge bursts of flame jetting out of it. The Sharom cracks apart and begins to fall, and darkness spreads across the sky. People are screaming as Charn takes off, running towards the Collam Daan. But he knows he’s too late.

Rand comes back to himself, reeling and blinking spots from his eyes, outside of the columns. Asking himself if he really just saw a hole being drilled into the Dark One’s prison. Remembering the thought that a city without chora is a wilderness. Muradin is nowhere in sight, and Rand is certain he will never leave the columns.

And then Rand sees Mat, hanging from the tree. After they escape from the dust monsters and step out of the mists of Rhuidean, Rand looks up the mountain to where the Aiel people wait. He remembers what the Aes Sedai said about the man who would come from Rhuidean at dawn, who will tie the Aiel together, take them back, and destroy them.

 

The portrait painted here of the prosperity of the Age of Legends is really beautiful. I’m intrigued by the technology, and curious how the use of channeling and Aes Sedai power affected the course of technological advancement during the Age of Legends. It seems to be a balance of what we might call “modern” civilization and a deep connection with nature, including mythical or fantasy creatures. Besides the snake and fox people, who resemble fairies or fae and with whom the ancient Aes Sedai had dealings but who don’t seem to belong to the same plane of existence, there were also the Ogier and the Nym, who seem like they might be related species in some way—we know that the Green Man, Someshta, called Loial “little brother” and that Loial called Someshta “treebrother.” This relationship may be more spiritual than literal, of course, but it is still interesting.

It was so wonderful to see Someshta again. He was probably my favorite part of The Eye of the World, and I would very much like to see what a land with Nym roaming in it would be like. It is also painful to be reminded all over again of the tragedy of his death, seeing him there with his withered, brown-charred injury, in the room with the female Aes Sedai as they planned the construction of the Eye of the World. I assume that “Kodam and his fellows” are the male Aes Sedai who helped make the Eye—it sounds as if, because they were young and less experienced in saidin, the taint affected them less, or less immediately. And we also know that the Aes Sedai who made the Eye of the World, probably Solinda among them, died in the construction of it. It’s interesting to think that many Aiel have witnessed these memories, but without Rand’s context, the debates, the clues about Callandor, about the making of the Eye of the World, would have meant nothing to them. None of them have ever met Someshta, as Rand did. As I remarked before, Rand is seeing bits of his history as the reincarnated Dragon, as well as one of Aiel bloodline.

The Nym seem to have brought their talents to the humans to help with cultivation, as did the Ogier, much the way Ogier stonemasons now help humans with the building of great works or cities. It’s fascinating that the Aiel had the ability to sing to growing things the way that the Ogier still do, though we know that such talents have faded among the Ogier of the current day, just as the ability no longer exists in humans. Perhaps it only still exists in the Ogier because fewer generations have passed for them than for humans, since the Breaking of the World.

And then we see that even the traditional warrior’s outfit of the Aiel began as working clothes. They also seem to have lived longer than humans of today do, as Jonai is sixty-three and that is considered the prime of life and too young for gray hairs. It is possible that people in the Age of Legends all lived such long lives, but it’s also possible that the Aiel had increased health and lengthened life through the Aes Sedai. They served the Aes Sedai, and may have been connected to them, like some kind of peaceful version of Warders. We do know that Warders gain some abilities from bonding, so it may have been the same for the Da’shain Aiel.

Learning that the Aiel were servants of the Aes Sedai makes a lot of sense. We’ve had hints of this, several Aiel characters have alluded to some failure or sin the Aiel committed towards the Aes Sedai, and that they believe that their lives in the Three-fold Land are a punishment for that betrayal. I assume that the sin is the failure to keep the “Covenant” or the Way of the Leaf, and thus to lose what made the Aiel who they are, or rather, who they were. I did notice that Jonai was more focused on the carrying things part of the task Solinda assigned him, whereas her main concern was clearly for the Aiel to survive. She appeared to care deeply for them.

It makes me wonder which divide of the Aiel is closest to the way of their ancestors. The Jenn were the “True Dedicated,” who kept at least some of the angreal, sa’angreal, and ter’angreal long enough to bring them to a place of safety, as instructed, and they kept to the Way of the Leaf. But they did die out, while the other two groups survived, although there is a question as to whether the modern Aiel would be considered Aiel at all, by the standards of those from the Age of Legends. Meanwhile the Tuatha’an abandoned the duty Solinda charged them with, no longer keeping even an unremembered connection to the Aes Sedai, but they do still practice the Way of the Leaf, even to this day.

And now we know a little more about the song the Traveling People are searching for. Even when they were first formed, Sulwin and his followers didn’t remember the singing that their ancestors practiced or what it really was, and it sounds like there were more kinds of singing besides seed singing, given the story about the Aiel who died at Tzora. But all Sulwin has to go on is stories his grandfather told him when he was young, and while it may be possible that there is a specific song they are searching for, the song might also be a metaphor that evolved into a spiritual belief over time, once the remembrance of the Age of Legends was lost.

Loial did mention in The Eye of the World that he taught some Tuatha’an the songs he sings to the trees, although for them it was just a nice song, nothing with power or seeming to be the song they seek. Of course, whether the Da’shain singing was a skill gained from the Aes Sedai or simply an Age-lost talent like being a wolfbrother or a Dreamer, that ability is lost. So in a way, it’s possible that what Loial taught them was the song, or would have been if they had been in a position to receive it.

Speaking of the singing, that was a beautiful segment, but I have to note that, once again, Jordan seems to have gendered the ability. There are only men singing with the Ogier, while the women clap to “urge the men on” and then come to kiss them afterwards. Also it’s notable that everyone Rand sees through is a male ancestor, implying either that there were no women of import in his family line, or that the columns only show you memories of the ancestors who were the same gender as you. Which… why?

I mean, at this point you all know my opinions about the gender divisions in The Wheel of Time. It’s the thing I struggle with the most in this series, and it’s especially frustrating when it messes with the coolest bits of the series. The world Rand knows inhabits that vague medieval fantasy place which assumes a certain position for women in society, but while that’s bad enough, there’s really no reason to have the Age of Legends also keep such division. Granted, we have barely seen anything of that culture or society outside of the Aiel, and even those glimpses are fragments, but what we do have is the implication of only male leaders amongst the Da’shain Aiel (it is unclear when Wise Ones become part of the culture, but it does not appear to happen until after they settle in the Waste, and even then, these leaders are separated out from the main culture), the seed singing (which is all male), and a suggestion that all Dreamers are female. Even accepting the gender divisions of the One Power, there’s no reason for these divisions to exist as well.

And speaking of the gender divisions, this revelation about the Bore, the hole in the Dark One’s prison, makes me very anxious. The idea that the ancient Aes Sedai mistook the Dark One’s prison for a power source is a fascinating one, and one well in keeping with science-fiction tropes. The dangers and possible hubris of great scientific advancement, the way great power can corrupt and lead to a lust for more power—all of these make sense as themes for this story to tackle. But I’m put off by the specific suggestion that the greatest sin of an Age, or perhaps any age, occurred because of a desire to surmount a gender separation that, in the world of The Wheel of Time, is biological fact. More information may change the implication of this, but right now, there is a suggestion that the desire for a power that would allow men and women to work united, without differences, is a bad one, almost a sin in some way, that led to the downfall of the greatest civilization of the Age, or at the very least an unnatural and dangerous one—and I don’t like it.

I hope that this is where this revelation is going. We still don’t know why only male Aes Sedai went with Lews Therin to seal the Bore, but it’s interesting to note that he apparently had nothing to do with the actual start of the Breaking, which was the opening of the hole in the Dark One’s prison. Perhaps Lews Therin’s decision to take the fight to Shayol Ghul was a mistake, but it’s interesting to note that his part is the only part that is remembered in the future that came after the Breaking. On the other hand, Jonai knows the whole story and is very upset to see the Dragon Banner in the room with the Aes Sedai. Perhaps there is still more to Lews Therin’s actions than we yet know, or perhaps it is merely the knowledge of the taint and the horrible things it brought Lews Therin and the other men to do that is enough to make Jonai, and everyone else, think of his memory as cursed and in need of being destroyed.

One thing I thought was really cool was seeing that fancloth was originally a fancy fashion statement, which then became a garment for soldiers, and then eventually became the cloaks of Warders. Some of the fabric must have survived the Breaking, allowing modern Aes Sedai to learn how to make it. That was a really cool detail, and a less fraught change than some of the others we saw unfolding through the memories.

I was very moved by Coumin’s encounter with the soldier (note the Seanchan-style helmet!). Coumin can’t imagine being someone who kills, but he also acknowledges that the soldier was picked out for that service at age ten. And Charn has told him stories of a time before war, which means that a way of peace existed, at one time, not just amongst the Aiel but amongst all people. Before the hole was drilled in the Dark One’s prison, there was a time where there was peace everywhere. And this, I think, really recontextualizes the Way of the Leaf. I’m sure there was still conflict, cruelty, even murder in those prosperous times, but it was apparently only on an individual scale, not a national or world-wide one. The Way of the Leaf would make much more sense in a world that only had human frailty and ego, a world that appears a relative utopia with plentiful food and beautiful cities, a world without Evil-capital-E.

Pacifism means something different in the Age of Legends. We’ve seen the debate between Perrin and the Tuatha’an, and the question of whether or not it is morally permissible to enact violence in self defense, or the defense of others. Perrin’s main argument is that if no one stands up to evil, it will overtake anything, and that is certainly true in a world that is at war with the devil. People, even cruel people, can be reasoned with, taught to be better, given opportunities to change, if one can find the right way. The Dark One and his minions cannot.

And we see that the Da’shain Aiel were willing to stand up to protect others, that they did so without turning to violence. They protected the people of Tzora with their bodies and their voices, and although the sacrifice was horribly great, turning violence against Jaric Mondoran would clearly have availed them not at all, and gotten them all killed even quicker. As it was, even in the throes of the taint, they were able to hold Jaric at bay for hours. That is powerful indeed.

I hope we get to see more of the Age of Legends and what life was like then. It gives so much context to the current world, and I admit that I was a little frustrated that the later flashbacks dropped words like “jocars” and “sho-wings” and that it mentions the Sharom without explaining what it is. If Charn knows what these things are, and Rand is Charn, then he must understand what they are too. We are all in Charn’s mind now, so we should know what he knows. Maybe Jordan felt that was too much extraneous detail in an already busy section, but it made the vision incomplete for me, somehow, since the rest of the picture was so vivid but then there were significant parts that I couldn’t actually picture at all.

Next week we move on to rejoin Loial, Perrin, and the rest, and I get a glimpse of why some folks don’t like Perrin and Faile’s relationship very much. There is also some fascinating dreamworld stuff, and Perrin meets a mysterious woman.

Sylas K Barrett is an indifferent singer, but would really like to learn how to interact with the world by singing at it.

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