Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: Women are the Sun in Robert Jordan’s The Shadow Rising (Part 21)

This week in Reading the Wheel of Time, we are going to cover Chapters 27 and 28. I really enjoyed Chapter 28 especially. I always enjoy Perrin’s forays into Tel’aran’rhiod and how it compares to the more traditional ideas of Dreaming, and of course I adore Hopper. We also have a really fun cameo from Birgitte Silverbow, and a brand new enemy in Slayer.

I’m less enthused about Chapter 27, as Jordan is really straining my desire to like Faile. Like, really really straining it.

Chapter 27 opens with Perrin and company in the Ways, he and Gaul following a little ways behind Loial and the women. Despite the crowding of the darkness around them, Perrin is careful to keep the prescribed distance, not wanting a repeat after what happened when he went through the gate and to the first Guiding before Loial and Faile.

When she caught up to them, he almost felt guilty for making her worry, but instead of seeming worried she slapped him, twice, and then punched him in the ribs. Perrin asked her not to, in his quiet, somber way, but when she didn’t stop he retaliated.

She had been furious, of course. Furious with Loial for trying to intervene; she could take care of herself, thank you very much. Furious with Bain and Chiad for not intervening; she had been taken aback when they said they did not think she would want them to interfere in a fight she had picked. When you choose the fight, Bain had said, you must take the consequences, win or lose. But she did not seem even the tiniest bit angry with him any longer. That made him nervous. She had only stared at him, her dark eyes glistening with unshed tears, which made him feel guilty, which in turn made him angry. Why should he be guilty? Was he supposed to stand there and let her hit him to her heart’s content? She had mounted Swallow and sat there, very stiff-backed, refusing to sit gingerly, staring at him with an unreadable expression. It made him very nervous. He almost wished she had pulled a knife. Almost.

They continue on in the darkness, and Perrin is a little comforted to see Gaul be as perplexed by the layout of the Ways as he is, even if the Aielman doesn’t seem afraid at all of the darkness.

Eventually, Loial and Faile’s lanterns stop at the Guiding, and Faile’s voice calls out to him. The two men approach, finding Loial with his ears drooping and Faile pretending not to notice him. When he asks what she wants, she blinks as though remembering and claims that she wanted to see if he “could be taught to come” when she called him. Gaul seems to think this is funny, and tells Perrin that he might as well try to understand the sun, which simply is, and cannot be lived without, but also cannot be understood.

Loial interjects to tell Perrin that it wasn’t Faile who needed him at all, that Loial wanted him to catch up because they have reached the Waygate at Manetheren. Perrin waits for Faile to say something, not wanting to start a fight, and scrubs absently at his nose and the lingering, rank smell there. He’s about to give up and start following the line to the Waygate without Faile’s permission, when suddenly he realizes what the smell is, and shouts to warn the others.

The Trollocs attack in the next moment, and Perrin finds the hammer in his hands, rather than his axe. Despite being nearly taken by surprise, they manage to take out the Trollocs in a few minutes. When it’s over, Perrin is aware of blood on his face and another injury to his leg, and he can see that Loial and the Aiel also have wounds. But he only has eyes for Faile, who appears unhurt and who doesn’t smell injured, as far as Perrin can tell. He knows that the only reason they survived was because the Trollocs’ eyes had trouble adjusting to the light of their lanterns.

A second attack comes, this time a Myrddraal, and Perrin finds himself thinking like a wolf, willing to die to take down a Neverborn, wanting to sink his teeth in its throat. Pushing past the Maidens he attacks with his hammer, shattering the head of the Myrddraal just as it turns to face him. He doesn’t have much time to grapple with how much he lost himself to the wolf, however, because other sounds in the darkness let them know that there are more Trollocs coming. He urges everyone to get to the Waygate before the Trollocs decide what to do without the Myrddraal leading them. He’s surprised at how easily Faile obeys.

They all hurry after Loial, but Perrin catches a worse sound than Trolloc feet and hooves—the soft sighing of the Machin Shin. He shouts for them to hurry, and Loial, realizing what is coming, prays to the Light as the doors swing open. Faile races through, despite the Ogier’s warning shout, and Perrin urges the Aiel to follow. Perrin asks if Loial can lock or block the Waygate shut.

Perrin gives a wolf’s howl of challenge before setting his horse to go through the Waygate. On the other side he finds the Aiel already turning to face the coming threat, while Faile is climbing to her feet, having taken a tumble from going too fast through the Waygate. Loial exits last, followed by two Trollocs, but when they are only halfway through the surface of the Waygate turns black and bubbling, and clings to them. Perrin hears the whispering of the Machin Shin as it drags the Trollocs back into the Waygate. The doors slowly close, and Loial quickly puts not one but two Avendesora leaves into the door, sealing it but also leaving the inside leaf on the outside, so that the door cannot be opened on that side. He tells Perrin that he could lock it forever by not replacing the leaves at all, but that he cannot destroy the Ways, which the Ogier grew and tended. Perrin tells him that it will do. Even the Aiel seem shaken by the experience with the Black Wind.

Perrin turns to get his bearings where they have emerged in the Mountains of Mist, remembering Manetheren, remembering the Trolloc raid on Winternight that had precipitated his departure from his home. But now he has Whitecloaks to worry about, not Trollocs.

At the far end of the valley, Perrin sees two wheeling hawks. He’s startled when one of them is shot down, as he can’t think of a reason anyone would shoot down hawks unless they were over a farm. The second hawk dives down after the first, only to reverse and begin to climb again, desperately, as it is chased by a cloud of ravens. They surround it, and when the group disappears, the hawk is gone.

Faile asks what he is looking at, and Perrin tells her that it’s just birds. He doesn’t want to worry anyone unless he’s sure, but he knows what ravens might mean, and they had come from exactly the same place as the arrow had.

They turn to more practical matters, cleaning the blood from Perrin’s hammer and tending everyone’s wounds. Perrin is confused, and then touched, by Faile’s attentions, even though her words to him are still harsh. He notes her wincing as she gives him stitches, and her hands are gentle despite her grumblings, confusing him. After taking care of him she yells at him again, and Perrin tiredly decides that Gaul is right about women and the sun.

Perrin sends out his mind, looking for the wolves, and is startled, and worried, when he can’t find any.

Faile insists on continuing to keep the groups separate for their camps, despite Loial’s protests that they are out of the Ways and his oath has been kept. Perrin tells him to leave it alone and to stay with the women’s group. Still, he doesn’t move very far away.

He and Gaul make camp and eat in silence, while around the other fire there is laughter and conversation. Loial is visibly uncomfortable trying to sit aside with a book, and Perrin asks Gaul if he knows any funny stories. Gaul can’t think of any, but Perrin tries to make a joke it anyway, so that the girls will hear him laughing.

Their talk turns to Manetheren, and although Perrin insists that his people are farmers and shepherds, not a great nation warriors like their ancestors, Gaul remarks that he has seen Perrin, Rand, and Mat dance the spears. It makes Perrin wonder how much they have changed since they left home, not just his eyes or Rand’s channeling, but more than that. He thinks that Mat is the only one who still seems himself, just more so.

Perrin tells Gaul that he may be able to “find something out” during the night, and that Gaul may have to kick him to wake him up. When Gaul seems unfazed by this strange request, he remarks that none of the Aiel have ever asked about his eyes, or even given them a second glance.

“The world is changing,” Gaul said quietly. “Rhuarc, and Jheran, my own clan chief—the Wise Ones, too—they tried to hide it, but they were uneasy when they sent us across the Dragonwall searching for He Who Comes With the Dawn. I think perhaps the change will not be what we have always believed. I do not know how it will be different, but it will be. The Creator put us in the Three-fold Land to shape us as well as to punish our sin, but for what have we been shaped?” He shook his head suddenly, ruefully. “Colinda, the Wise One of Hot Springs Hold, tells me I think too much for a Stone Dog, and Bair, the eldest Wise One of the Shaarad, threatens to send me to Rhuidean when Jheran dies whether I want to go or not. Beside all of that, Perrin, what does the color of a man’s eyes matter?”

Perrin observes that he wishes everyone thought that way, and reminds Gaul to kick him if need be, before settling down to sleep, and the dream.

He finds himself in daylight, standing by the Waygate, in a verdant setting without any sign of humans, just the scent of birds and deer and rabbits. For a moment he feels he is a wolf, but he pulls away from that feeling, and is then fully in his own body, with the hammer hanging from the loop meant to hold his axe. He’s surprised, and for a moment the axe is there, although strangely indistinct, and then it is the hammer again. Perrin prefers the hammer, even if the axe is technically a better weapon.

Thinking of the odd things that happen in the wolf dream seems to trigger a new oddity, and a patch of sky seems to open like a window to somewhere else. Perrin sees Rand, surrounded by storm winds and small flying animals like the one depicted on the dragon banner, then Nynaeve and Elayne hunting something through a dark and twisted landscape of buildings, then Mat, flipping a coin to decide which way to walk down a fork in the road. As he starts down one, he is suddenly wearing a wide-brimmed hat and carrying a walking staff bearing a short blade. Finally he sees Egwene and a woman with long white hair, staring at him in surprise as the White Tower crumbles behind them.

Perrin drew a deep breath. He had seen the like before, here in the wolf dream, and he thought the sightings were real in some way, or meant something. Whatever they were, the wolves never saw them. Moiraine had suggested that the wolf dream was the same as something called Tel’aran’rhiod, and then would say no more. He had overheard Egwene and Elayne speaking of dreams, once, but Egwene already knew too much about him and wolves, perhaps as much as Moiraine. It was not something he could talk about, not even with her.

Perrin does wish he could talk to Elyas, and for a moment after the thought he thinks he hears his voice whispered on the wind. Then that, too, is gone.

He calls for Hopper, but the wolf doesn’t appear, and Perrin decides to get on with it. His first step takes him right to where he was aiming for, the spot where the ravens appeared, and Perrin wonders if he’s learning more about how the dream works. He finds no sign of archer, birds, or wolves, and decides to try to call again, this time from a peak higher up. He leaps from peak to peak, calling for Hopper, seeking other wolves, but finding only a few ancient signs of men, of figures and writing carved into the mountain side, long worn away over time.

And then, suddenly, he finds another man, wearing a blue coat and carrying a bow, stooping over something in the brush. Perrin finds his scent cold and not quite human, and the man takes off upon seeing Perrin. Perrin steps to where the man had been and finds a dead wolf, half skinned.

Knowing only something evil could kill a wolf in the wolf dream, Perrin takes off after the man, crossing farmland and villages empty of people, north and east until they are running over grasslands and Perrin sees a metal tower in the distance. The man disappears inside, leaving Perrin unable to find a door or a way to follow.

Just then Hopper appears, ordering Perrin to stop. He tells Perrin that the man he is hunting is called Slayer, and that he is in the dream in the flesh, and able to kill. Perrin asks how this is possible.

Perrin is determined to get in, despite Hopper’s warning that everyone knows this place is evil. Then a human voice arrests him. The woman wears her golden hair in a thick, intricate braid, and her clothes are strange, though Perrin catches something silver glinting at her side. She remarks upon his sharp eyes, and Hopper appears to take no notice of her at all.

She tells Perrin that she has come to warn him “despite the prescripts” and that the Tower of Ghenjei is hard enough to leave in the other world, and almost impossible to leave here. She is surprised when Perrin admits that Hopper also warned him. She tells Perrin that the tower is a doorway to the realms of the Aelfinn and the Eelfinn, the memory of whom lies still in an old game children play called Snakes and Foxes.

“‘Courage to strengthen, fire to blind, music to daze, iron to bind.’… “Those are the ways to win against the snakes and the foxes. The game is a remembrance of old dealings. It does not matter so long as you stay away from the Aelfinn and the Eelfinn. They are not evil the way the Shadow is evil, yet they are so different from humankind they might as well be. They “are not to be trusted, archer. Stay clear of the Tower of Ghenjei. Avoid the World of Dreams, if you can. Dark things walk.”

Perrin asks if she means Slayer, and she answers that it is a good name for the man who is not old himself, though his evil is ancient. She admits that she should not be talking to Perrin, and then realizes that he must be ta’veren. But she refuses to tell him his name, and Perrin is startled when another person appears, just for a moment, the shadow of a man with two hilts of swords rising above his shoulders. It almost reminds Perrin of something.

“He is right,” the woman said behind him. “I should not be talking to you.”

When he turned back, she was gone. As far as he could see were only grassland and scattered thickets. And the gleaming, silvery tower.

Perrin observes that Hopper isn’t exactly on his best guard, and finds out that the wolf didn’t see or hear anyone. Still, Perrin is forced to acquiesce to both the woman and the wolf’s advice and returns to his original intent, filling Hopper in on his search for the wolves, the ravens he saw, and the Trollocs in the Ways.

When he was done, Hopper remained silent for a long time, his bushy tail held low and stiff. Finally… Avoid your old home, Young Bull. The image Perrin’s mind called “home” was of the land marked by a wolf pack. There are no wolves there now. Those who were and did not flee are dead. Slayer walks the dream there.

But Perrin has to go home, though Hopper warns him that the day of the Last Hunt is coming. They part ways, and Perrin wakes to find Gaul standing guard, and Faile keeping watch over the other camp. Perrin tells Gaul he’ll take over for a while, and warns the Aielman that things in the Two Rivers might be even worse than he thought. “Things often are” is Gaul’s stoic reply.

Perrin is left to his thoughts, puzzling over the identity over the man called Slayer, the Trollocs at the Waygate and the ravens, and whether or not they are all connected.

 

I am fascinated by the addition of the tower of Ghenjei to the mythos (if that’s the right word) of The Wheel of Time, and it raises a lot of questions for me about the origins of the redstone doorways and how the dimensions of the Aelfinn and Eelfinn are connected to Rand’s reality. I had originally supposed that the ancient Aes Sedai had been exploring into other realities via their powers, building doorways and finding out where they led all in one go. Now, however, I wonder if the Tower of Ghenjei didn’t exist first, perhaps having nothing to do with the Aes Sedai or channeling at all. Perhaps the Aes Sedai explored these worlds through the Tower first, and, after discovering how dangerous the snake and fox people could be, struck the bargains and built the archways in an effort to make the interactions safer—and perhaps more profitable too.

Either way, now we know a little bit more about the fairy-like beings that Mat and the others met. I’m not positive which is which, but I’ll assume right now that they are always listed in the same order, and thus Aelfinn = snakes and Eelfinn = Foxes. (I apologize in advance for how irritating it will be for my readers if this is backwards.) Given Mat’s experiences with the Eelfinn, I can well imagine how dangerous entering the Tower of Ghenjei must be. Mat had no knowledge of the “ancient agreements” that the Aes Sedai made to ensure safety while interacting with the Eelfinn, so I kind of imagine that what happened to him probably happened to everybody, or at least everybody who didn’t have fire, music, or iron at hand. It might have been worse, even, than Mat’s experience, as it seems that the only reason the foxy people hanged him in his own world instead of in theirs is because one of his “wishes” was to go home. Otherwise the Eelfinn would have just tortured and killed him in their own realm.

I am quite curious who Slayer is. It’s possible he’s one of the Forsaken, or maybe he’s an Eelfinn who got loose when Mat was over there meddling. I’ve gotten to know Jordan’s writing well enough, however, to hold space for the likelihood that he is a brand new villain of a different kind, perhaps the other side of the coin to Perrin, an old thing come again but this time it’s evil.

It’s delightfully frustrating to have Perrin learn about the Tower of Ghenjei, rather than Mat or someone else who has had dealing with the redstone doorways. This isn’t the first time we’ve had main characters come into possession of information that pertained to someone else’s quest, and I always enjoy a good bit of dramatic irony. The way Jordan employs this tight third-person pov but jumps around to many different characters, including the occasional baddie, really gives one the best of both worlds, narratively speaking. We get those deep looks into people’s heads but still get to see lots of what is going on, all around the world.

As far as dramatic irony goes, this also isn’t the first time Perrin has stumbled across Egwene (or she across him) while they were both in Tel’aran’rhiod, and it always makes me chuckle. Last week I was questioning why we hadn’t seen any male Dreamers, despite the fact that Dreaming isn’t connected to the ability to channel, and even the Aiel don’t seem to have any. I do find it amusing to think of Amys being confused by Perrin’s ability. She may be a Wise One and an expert on Dreaming, someone who can look down her nose at the Aes Sedai understanding of Tel’aran’rhiod, or even of channeling, but there are things in the world that she, too, doesn’t know. The world is changing, as everyone keeps saying.

I really like Gaul, who together with Rhuarc is probably my favorite among the Aiel thus far. I like the quiet, unpretentious confidence, and the fact that it brings with it a certain amount of open-minded flexibility. It makes sense to me that Colinda told him he should go to Rhuidean after his clan-chief dies. I think he would be able to absorb and accept the revelation about the truth of the Aiel, and to make it a part of himself and his decisions going forward. He also makes a great companion for Perrin, as the two are very similar in a lot of ways. It’s also interesting to be reminded of the stoicism of the modern, fighting Aiel, after everything we went through in the last few chapters—the way they handle the Ways, and the way Gaul observes that things being worse than you first thought is often the way of life.

I am not, however, here for this “The Quiet Man” nonsense with Perrin and Faile. I try to remain spoiler free, but I have heard that a lot of people dislike their relationship, and I’m beginning to see why. I love a good Benedick and Beatrice scenario, but their childish way of handling their feud is now descending into outright physical abuse. Even recognizing that violence is an integral part of these characters’ lives now, and as such this particular scuffle probably doesn’t last in the mind as long as it otherwise would, if I were Perrin, Faile’s behavior would have me seriously questioning my desire to be in a relationship with her. And then he spanks her? And it… helps? That’s not women being the sun, that’s just dumb.

I think I could accept it more if Perrin and Faile were alone through all this, but the presence of Bain, Chiad, and Gaul is narratively used to reinforce some of the themes and concepts. I mean, Gaul having to continually warn Perrin not to wander off with Bain and Chiad? That’s really messed up, even for Aiel.

But I don’t want to beat a dead Trolloc about it, and there’s still a lot of good stuff to touch on. Like Birgitte showing up! I have been endlessly curious about how the Heroes of the Horn work, like where they were before the Horn summoned them, and where they wait now that they have been summoned but aren’t currently in use. Did the Aes Sedai somehow bind the heroes to the Horn and thus separate them out from the general weaving, or does the Horn just reach into whatever afterlife or mid-place exists for those who have died and have not yet been reborn, plucking them out at need? Can the Heroes no longer be reincarnated, now that their spirits are bound to the Horn of Valere? There are so many existential questions!

But now one of those questions has been answered, since apparently the Heroes are hanging out in the World of Dreams. It makes a fair amount of sense—after all, Tel’aran’rhiod is an afterlife for wolves, who are apparently supposed to be reborn for the Last Battle, or Last Hunt, as they call it. Why should it not also serve for the dead humans who are waiting for the Last Battle to come. But Hopper couldn’t see Birgitte, which I find very curious. Do they not actually share the same metaphysical space? Perhaps there is overlap, but the wolves’ afterlife is slightly separated from the Tel’aran’rhiod that humans can enter. Or maybe only Perrin could see Birgitte because she did not intend to appear to anyone, except that she was pulled to him by his ta’veren power.

In any case, I really like her. She’s got a sense of humor, and stood out as a character right away, even in that brief moment we met her back in The Great Hunt. She has that warrior attitude, a sort of playfulness in the face of destiny, like the Klingon “it’s a good day to die” attitude.

An aside: I went back and reread that bit in The Great Hunt where the boys talk to Hawkwing, Birgitte, and company, and was struck anew by Hawkwing’s statement about the number of Heroes. “Only a few are bound to the Wheel, spun out again and again to work the will of the Wheel in the Pattern of the Ages.” At the time I took him to only be talking about being bound to the Horn, but now I think that he is actually talking about the pattern of reincarnation. I’ve asked many questions about who is reincarnated in this universe, how, and how often, and apparently that question was answered already: It’s only a few.

Obviously Rand, as the Dragon, is constantly reincarnated, and we know that Mat has had a past life, but it’s possible that none of the others have been born before, at least as far as I can tell (or remember) from the narrative. So that’s interesting. Also, the guy with two swords that Perrin glimpsed so briefly is probably Gaidal Cain.

I don’t know why Perrin doesn’t recognize Birgitte. Is it because they’re in Tel’aran’rhiod, and perception there is a little different? I know in my dreams I can sometimes recognize someone even when they don’t look how they look in the waking world, or not recognize someone I should know, so it makes sense that Tel’aran’rhiod might operate on some slightly off, dream-like rules, like the way you travel when you’re in it. Or perhaps the same disconnect that made Hopper unable to see her also affected Perrin’s perception or memory.

I’m curious about Perrin’s observations about how much he and Rand have changed, while Mat just seems himself but more so. It’s an interesting perspective to have, that Mat’s changes are just amplifying the way he already was—the gambling, the recklessness, the reliance on a combination of luck, wits, and bluffing—while Perrin and Rand feel like they’ve been changed into people who are very different than they were before. I wonder if, in time, Perrin will come to feel like the wolf side is as much of a part of him as the human side, just as Rand might one day come to feel like his power and his identity as the Dragon does belong to him. I’m thinking, too, of Rand’s new favorite saying about duty being heavier than a mountain. Perrin, also, is driven by a sense of duty: He can’t bring himself to turn away from battles or violence, even though he despises it. He feels like he must sacrifice himself for his family in the Two Rivers. Rand is driven by his fate as the Dragon and the knowledge that he must act for the world, not himself, or the world will literally be destroyed. But Mat is still clinging to this illusion that he is acting only for himself, and while I don’t think that is actually the case, it holds up well enough that both Mat himself and the people around him believe it.

I’m going to be taking next week off to deal with a few more family medical things, but we will resume on March 10th with Chapters 29 and 30, which are quite sad indeed. Until then I wish you all a very good and relaxing two weeks, and a fun discussion down in the comment section.

Sylas K Barrett is very curious about how they’re going to do Perrin’s eyes in the TV show. Contact lenses? CGI á la the Sci-Fi channel’s Dune mini series. Fun times, either way.

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