Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: There Are No Customs to Cover the Dragon Reborn in Robert Jordan’s The Shadow Rising (Part 34)

This week (week 34!) in our read of The Shadow Rising, we have once again returned to the Three-Fold land, and have rejoined Rand and Mat and their party of Aiel, Wise Ones, and Aes Sedai. Rand and Mat struggle to understand the concept of Aiel men having more than one wife (Rand for perhaps more personal reasons than Mat) and we learn where Cold Rocks Hold gets its name from.

Oh, and also some Shadowspawn show up. Chapters 48, 49, and 50 await. Let’s begin.

Chapter 48 opens once again with Aviendha haranguing Rand about his relationship with Elayne, this time irritated over the attentions that he has been receiving from Isendre, attentions she sees Rand as returning. They disagree over whether or not Isendre is soft, and then Aviendha returns to trying to teach Rand about Aiel ways and customs. Rand has difficulty understanding the concept of a roofmistress and how it works, despite Aviendha explaining it more than once.

“I will attack it from another direction,” she grumbled at him. “When a woman is to marry, if she does not already own a roof, her family builds one for her. On her wedding day her new husband carries her away from her family across his shoulder, with his brothers holding off her sisters, but at the door he puts her down and asks her permission to enter. The roof is hers. She can…”

Rand stops listening after a while, his thoughts turning to how much more pleasant Aviendha’s lessons are than the sniping she had been doing before, especially when she seems to momentarily forget how much she dislikes him. He has even begun to see those outbursts as a bit amusing, and he finds that he is at least glad to know where he stands with her, that her focus seems to be more on his identity as Rand than as He Who Comes With The Dawn.

He also finds himself comparing their relationship to his and Elayne’s, and even his and Min’s. Elayne’s two contradictory letters still have him confused, and Min seems to be the only woman who hasn’t utterly perplexed him. He has begun dreaming of all three women, and he reminds himself that right now he needs to be clear-headed and cold.

They are in the twelfth day of riding, the landscape unchanged during the hot days and cold nights. Moiraine has tried a few times to get information out of him, to no avail, and Rand has figured out that Egwene has been passing as a full Aes Sedai amongst the Wise Ones, who have finally let her stop wearing her hair in the two braids. The Jindo have become a little more comfortable around him, although only Aviendha talks to him for very long, and each evening Rand practices the sword with Lan and the spear with Rhuarc, as well as learning the Aiel’s unarmed fighting style.

And almost every morning, Kadere has ridden over to Rand and dropped hints about having knowledge he might sell to Rand, if Rand could guarantee certain safeguards. He has even, once, gone so far as to suggest that even the worst deeds, such as murder and treason, might be forgiven in exchange for knowledge.

“I don’t know that I want to buy knowledge,” Rand told him more than once. “There’s always the question of price, isn’t there? Some prices I might not want to pay.”

Natael has also been bothering Rand, asking for details about how Rand feels about his destiny, how he will face madness and death. The first time he is driven off by the arrival of Moiraine, Egwene, and the Wise Ones. But he keeps coming back for a long time, until finally he gets frustrated by Rand’s repetition of “I will do what I must,” and gives up.

Eventually Rand learns that the Wise Ones are teaching Aviendha to channel, after she manages to create a fireball and scare the daylights out of all the other travelers. Rand is reminded, again, that he has no one to teach him what he must learn, and that he must learn anyway, or the One Power will kill him even before the taint has time to destroy his mind.

He has few conversations with Mat, who still seems wary of him and who contradicts himself about whether or not he remembers his experiences through the ter’angreal in Rhuidean. Mat spends most of his time playing dice with the wagon drivers in Kadere’s caravan—at least until they figure out how often he wins—and trying to woo Isendre. One time, Rand even witnessed the two of them standing together and Keille offering to sell Isendre to Mat for a Tar Valon mark. Isendre and Keille threatened each other before Isendre stalked off to the wagons.

Keille watched, round face unreadable, until the white door closed, then suddenly rounded on Mat, who was on the point of slipping away. “Few men have ever refused an offer from me once, much less twice. You should have a care I do not take it in mind to do something about it.” Laughing, she reached up and pinched his cheek with thick fingers, hard enough to make him wince, then turned in Rand’s direction. “Tell him, my Lord Dragon. I have a feeling you know something of the dangers of scorning a woman. That Aiel girl who follows you about, glaring. I hear you belong to another. Perhaps she feels scorned.”

Rand answers that Aviendha would put a knife in his ribs if she even suspected him of thinking of her that way, but Keille only laughs and tells them both that it’s a lesson they can both learn—if you scorn a woman, she might think nothing of it. Or, perhaps it will be the knife.

As Aviendha finishes her explanation, Rand realizes that he has zoned out for much of it, and admits that he still doesn’t understand, though he suspects the system works fine. Aviendha asks whether he will follow the way of the Aiel or the one of the wetlanders when he marries, and seems even more annoyed when he points out that such a decision should be between him and whomever he decides to marry. Just then Rhuarc rides back to tell them that they have arrived at Cold Rocks Hold.

Rand and Mat can see nothing except the same land they have been traveling over and a jagged rock wall in the distance. The Aiel drop their shoufa, baring their faces, and run forward, shouting loudly. Rand asks Aviendha to ride with him, so that he can hear her over the din. She reluctantly agrees, but then she has to throw her arms around him to stay on the horse as it canters.

“If you make me look the fool before my sisters, wetlander,” she snarled warningly against his back.

“Why would they think you a fool? I’ve seen Bair and Amys and the others ride behind Moiraine or Egwene sometimes to talk.”

After a moment, she said, “You accept changes more easily than I, Rand al’Thor.” He was not sure what to make of that.

Aviendha pulls the shoufa that Rand has taken to wearing—his only concession to Aiel dress—down to his shoulders, reminding him of the custom of making noise and showing your face while you approach a Hold, to show that you have no intention of attacking by surprise.

They ride in through the largest fissure in the rock wall, where they find shade and where the Aiel fall silent, until the fissure opens up into a long canyon, green and filled with huts, farm animals, gardens, and lots of Aiel—men and women, and even some Maidens—who greet them noisily.

In the back of the canyon they are met by Lian, Rhuarc’s wife and roofmistress of Cold Rocks Hold. Amys goes to stand beside her as Rhuarc greets her with the formal words “I ask leave to enter your hold, roofmistress.” Heirn, as sept chief rather than a clan chief, asks slightly differently; “Roofmistress, I ask leave to come beneath your roof.”

She gives both men formal replies to their requests, though her affection for Rhuarc also makes it into her words, but when Couladin asks, he uses Rhuarc’s words rather than Heirn’s, a grave insult as he is not a clan chief. Lian’s reply, as Aviendha explains after Rand hears the shocked murmurs of the Aiel around them, manages to insult Couladin without offering any insult to Shaido—she welcomes him, but as a beggar, as “one friendless and alone.”

And then it is Rand’s turn, and although, as the Car’a’carn, he is supposed to use Rhuarc’s words, he uses Heirn’s instead, asking leave only to come beneath her roof. This puzzles Lian, and the crowd too, and Rhuarc looks worried. Lian studies him a moment, then looks at Amys, who nods.

“Such modesty,” Lian said slowly, “is becoming in a man. Men seldom know where to find it.” Spreading her dark skirts, she curtsied, awkwardly—it was not a thing Aielwomen did—but still a curtsy, in return of his bow. “The Car’a’carn has leave to enter my hold. For the chief of chiefs, there is ever water and shade at Cold Rocks.”

The formalities over, the crowd begins to disperse and Couladin stalks off, once again glaring open hatred at Rand. But Rand has something else to surprise him as Rhuarc puts one arm around Amys and the other around Lian, and the clan chief invites him to meet his other wife, Lian. Both Mat and Rand stare open mouthed, and Mat can’t decide if Rhuarc is the luckiest man alive or the biggest fool.

Rhuarc and Amys express some concern that Aviendha hasn’t been doing her job as a teacher—one Amys admits was given to her to keep her from running off—since she has failed to explain this, and Aviendha angrily points out that there were more important things to teach him than about marriage, and that he doesn’t listen anyway. Rand is quick to assure them that Aviendha is a good teacher, and to assure Amys that he would like her to remain so. Amy agrees, and Aviendha looks put out.

They go in to have dinner at Lian’s house, which although modest in its outward appearance proves to be richly furnished with intricate carpets and tasseled cushions, low reading stands holding open books, silver lamps, and porcelain artifacts set into niches. Rand and Mat both present Lian with guest gifts—Rand’s is planned, Mat’s, who hasn’t been taught, produces a necklace no doubt meant for Isendre—but when Moiraine offers a guest gift as well, Lian refuses it. She treats both Moiraine and Egwene with the utmost diffidence, referencing the vague remembrance of the Aiel that they once served the Aes Sedai and hoping that Moiraine’s presence might mean that their failure was not a sin beyond forgiving. Moiraine informs her that there will probably be more Aes Sedai coming to the Three-Fold land in the future, sparking worried glances between the Wise Ones.

They eat lying on the ground, a feat made even more uncomfortable to Rand by the fact that Aviendha won’t stop needling him about his request to keep her as a teacher. At one point he tells her that he does not know what he has done to her, but she needen’t remain his teacher if she does not want to, and Aviendha only replies that he has done nothing to her and never will. Rand begins to wonder if she will treat him better if he gives her a gift, since the Aiel seem to set such store by gift-giving.

After dinner they drink, and some of the men smoke, and talk turns to the gathering at Alcair Dal. Rand worries over the month he must wait for the most distant clans to arrive there, but Rhuarc tells him that it would be a grave insult to anyone not there when Rand arrived, and that he must be the last to come to Alcair Dal. He asks how many of the Aiel will resist him, and Rhuarc admits that he can’t be sure. There are some that he knows will support Rand, and he worries over the Shaido, who will be brought to Alcair Dal by Sevanna, Suladric’s wife, since the clan currently has no chief, and who Rhuarc claims is “wily and untrustworthy.” Still, it is possible that everyone, even the Shaido, will support Rand, since they have waited so long for the man with two dragons on his arms. He asks if Rand will change his mind and wear the cadin’sor.

“And show them what, Rhuarc? A pretend Aiel? As well dress Mat for Aiel.” Mat choked on his pipe. “I will not pretend. I am what I am; they must take me as I am.” Rand raised his fists, coatsleeves falling enough to uncover the golden-maned heads on the backs of his wrists. “These prove me. If they aren’t enough, then nothing is.”

When Moiraine starts to question Rand’s intentions and wording, Rand just stands and asks to be excused, saying he is going to walk around for a while.

Rand wanders through the Hold, his farmer’s eye particularly interested in the gardens where he sees unfamiliar plants growing, avoiding the wagons where he can see the peddlers trading with the Aiel, and by asking directions eventually finds his way to the roof of the Maidens. He’s confused when they, seeming both amused and scandalized, deny him entry, but agree to fetch the Jindo and Nine Valleys Maidens out, the ones he traveled with from Rhuidean. And all the others as well, drinking tea and watching him.

After he had examined several offerings, Adelin, the yellow-haired Jindo woman with the thin scar on her cheek, produced a wide bracelet of ivory heavily carved with roses. He thought it should suit Aviendha; whoever made it had carefully shown thorns among the blossoms.

He tells Adelin that the gift is meant to thank Aviendha for being his teacher, but the Maidens grow serious all the same and Adelin says that she will not accept any payment for the bracelet. Rand worries the gift is wrong, but Adelin assures him that it will not dishonor Aviendha and has him drink with her, repeating the phrase “remember honor.” He repeats the ritual with every single Maiden before he is able to make his escape, finding Aviendha beating carpets outside and offers her the bracelet. She tells him that she, as a Maiden, has never worn such things, since they can make noise or catch on something, endangering a warrior.

Rand answers that she must be able to wear it now, since she is going to be a Wise One, but Aviendha wears the bracelet like it is a manacle. He worriedly tells her that she doesn’t have to keep it if she does not want to, and that Adelin had said it would not bring Aviendha dishonor, and seemed even to approve. When he mentions the drinking ceremony Aviendha tells him that the Maidens believed that he was trying to attract her interest, and that they had expressed their approval. Rand hurriedly offers to set the matter straight.

But that would dishonor her, Aviendha insists, and tells Rand to let them think what they think. She repeats to herself that he knows nothing, and then apologizes for bullying him at dinner before asking him to leave her, saying that because of him she must beat all these rugs, and that it will take even longer if he is there watching.

Rand goes in and finds the Wise Ones talking. He asks if they ordered Aviendha to apologize to him—they did not—and mistakes their wry amusement over Aviendha’s punishment and her need to learn to control her temper for an attempt to convince him that she will be great company from now on. Rand decides to press them, declaring that they must know that he is aware that Aviendha is a spy. They retort that he does not know as much as he thinks he does. As they talk, Rand declares that they won’t get what they want.

“What we want?” Melaine snapped; her long hair swung as she tossed her head. “The prophecy says ‘a remnant of a remnant shall be saved.’ What we want, Rand al’Thor, Car’a’carn, is to save as many of our people as we can. Whatever your blood, and your face, you have no feeling for us. I will make you know our blood for yours if I have to lay the—”

Amys cuts her off, sending a gai’shain woman to take Rand to his sleeping quarters. He is left wondering what Melaine intended to lay, why they didn’t care that he knew Aviendha was a spy, and to puzzle over Aviendha’s behavior. He falls asleep thinking about traps, about Kadere watching him, wishing he could trust Moiraine. His last thought is about Perrin being at home.

He has his pond dream again, swimming in the cool water with Min and Elayne, but this time Aviendha is there too, sitting on the bank in her cadin’sor. He urges her to join them in the water, offering to teach her how to swim.

Laughter interrupts him, and he sees a tall, pale, dark-haired woman standing naked on the bank, who asks him if she should allow him to be unfaithful to her, even in his dreams. Somehow she is suddenly in the water with him, her hair still dry, her body entwining around his. Rand feels as though something is not right but he can’t quite understand what, as the woman insists that she should mark him. She actually bites him, hard enough to break skin, before they are interrupted by someone else. The woman is suddenly clothed and on the bank, and she argues with a blur that has a man’s voice. Then they vanish, and Rand wakes, to find the mark on his neck where she bit him is still there.

He realizes that the woman in his dreams was Lanfear, and that he hadn’t been the one to dream her up. He’s about to go back to sleep when he suddenly becomes aware of another person in the room

Frantically he reached for the True Source. For an instant he feared fear itself might defeat him. Then he floated in the cold calm of the Void, filled with a raging river of the Power. He sprang to his feet, lashing out. The lamps burst alight.

He finds not Lanfear standing there but Aviendha seated on the floor, wrapped in the bonds of Air he put on her. He releases her at once and she scrambles up, remarking that she doesn’t think she’ll ever get used to a man channeling. She admits, when pressed, that the Wise Ones asked her to watch over him, that they too have been watching. Rand realizes she means in his dreams. He asks how long they have been spying on him, but she will only reiterate that they feel like something is coming and that Rand must be protected.

Suddenly Rand feels a distinct sensation of evil, and he summons the Power-wrought sword, urging Aviendha to get behind him. All is darkness and stillness outside, until he find the shadowy figure like a man with Chion, the gai’shain who had tended Rand earlier, wrapped in his arms. For a moment Rand is faintly embarrassed outside the Void until they see that the one holding her is a Draghkar.

The Draghkar tries to use its hypnotic song on Rand, but it stays outside the Void and he runs it through with his flaming sword. Aviendha checks Chion, finding her dead and deciding that it’s just as well, since her soul would have been eaten before her life was consumed. She just has time to throw herself down out of the way as Rand shoots a ball of fire out of his sword and into the chest of another Draghkar.

He tells Aviendha to rouse everyone, and she instructs him to ring the gong by the door before running off shouting to wake the Aiel. Rand finds Seana dead outside, and rings the gong, hearing an answering gong and the cries of “Up spears!” from the Aiel. Rhuarc appears with a shoufa for Rand, but Rand refuses it, exclaiming that they are there for him, and to let them see his face.

Down by the wagons, Mat has just finished fending off a Trolloc attack, and a Maiden compliments how he dances the spear. She also remarks that without the Aes Sedai, the Trollocs might have forced a way into the Hold. Mat replies that they are only a diversion, meant to pull their attention. Keille and Kadere are nowhere to be seen, but he spots Isendre and tries to flirt with her. She turns away without a word.

They start to gather, Rand coming down the canyon to be met first by Aviendha, then by Moiraine. Moiraine warns Rand that this attack was meant for him, not for the Aiel, and Rand replies simply that he knows. She presses him to confide in her, asking him if he thinks he has already learned everything there is to know after only a little more than a year out of his village. Rand counters that he does not, and tells her that if she will say plainly that she won’t try to stop him or hinder him in anyway way, then he will confide in her. But her answer is not clear enough, not free enough from Aes Sedai wordplay, for his tastes. And in any case, he adds, he can not confide in her here. The night has ears.

Rhuarc arrives to tell Rand the same thing, that the Trollocs were a diversion for the Draghkar, meant for him, and that he expects that they will have Gray Men next. He wants to put guards around Rand, and the Maidens have volunteered for the task. Both Rand and Aviendha seem uncomfortable, but Rand accepts and Rhuarc says that he will also put everyone else on alert. Mat asks if they should bring the Shaido into the Hold as well—they may not like each other but it seems better to have all the Aiel inside if a larger attack comes.

Rhuarc answers that he would not bring almost a thousand Shaido inside his Hold even if the Dark One himself were coming, but in any case, Couladin and and the other Shaido have left. He believes that Couladin intends to meet Sevanna and the other Shaido on their way to Alcair Dal, to influence her against Rand. Hearing this news, Rand decides to leave for Alcair Dal at once, as he cannot afford to give Couladin a month to turn the other Aiel against him. What’s more, he plans to bring all the Aiel from Cold Rocks, every one that can carry a spear or draw a bow. Rhuarc tries to protest, citing custom, but Rand cuts him off.

“There are no customs to cover me, Rhuarc.” You could have cracked rocks with Rand’s voice, or put a skim of ice on wine. “I have to make new customs.” He laughed roughly. Aviendha looked shocked, and even Rhuarc blinked, taken aback. Only Moiraine was unaffected, with those considering eyes. “Someone had best let the peddlers know,” Rand continued. “They won’t want to miss the fair, but if they don’t stop those fellows drinking they will be too drunk to handle reins. What of you, Mat? Are you coming?”

Mat, privately thinking that he needs to stay near the peddlers, since they are his way out of the waste, agrees cheerfully that he is right behind Rand.

 

So much happens in these chapters it’s hard to know where to start. and like the winds of Randland, you can almost feel the Pattern shifting. I think I’m almost as desperate to know what Rand is planning as Moiraine and the Wise Ones are, and with only eight chapters left in The Shadow Rising I’m thinking I just might get an explanation, or at least part of one, very soon.

I’m intrigued by Rand’s focus on the peddlers. For a moment I wondered why he would instruct that they be brought into the loop so that they could also come to Alcair Dal—surely, with all the customs he is breaking, he could have refused to allow them to accompany the Taardad. But then I remembered his strategy with Aviendha, how he prefers to keep her close because then at least he knows who the spy is. No doubt he wants to do the same with Keille, Kadere, Isendre, and Natael. He clearly knows that at least some of them are Darkfriend spies, maybe all of them, and at least this way he can keep an eye on his enemy, who might not realize that he’s on to them. As far as I can tell, however, Rand doesn’t seem to suspect that Keille is Lanfear in disguise.

I wonder if Moiraine has any suspicious thought or instincts about our band of peddlers. Personally, I think Natael is also one of the Forsaken, probably the blur with a man’s voice that appeared in Rand’s (or was it Lanfear’s at that point?) dream. Natael has been the least suspicious of the four, I think, which fits with this suggestion that he prefers to be cautious and wait in the shadows without taking too many risks. (Also, Lanfear’s reference to Moghedien here confirms, I think, that she is the woman who interviewed Nynaeve and Elayne in Tanchico.) Natael’s questioning of Rand might seem like it’s just a gleeman fishing for story material, but some of his questions, his desire to know what Rand is thinking and feeling, seem just a bit too pointed. A gleeman can always make up the emotions that fit his tale, after all (as Thom points out, they are all altered with time anyway) and he does seem to harp overmuch on this idea of Rand’s life as a tragedy. If he is one of the Forsaken it makes sense, and is a bit clever really, for him to focus on Rand’s thought process. If he can understand how this new Dragon thinks, he might very well be able to get out ahead of him in the way Ishamael—who tried to influence him but never bothered to think very much about who Rand was besides a reincarnation of Lews Therin—failed.

I’m not sure if Kadere and Isendre know that their compatriots are two of the Forsaken. Kadere has shown deference to Keille, but Isendre would never have spoken to Keille the way she does if she’d known that she is really Lanfear. Of course there is a chance Isendre could be one of the Forsaken as well, but she doesn’t seem to have the kind of presence I would expect. It was a bit alarming the way she and Keille were threatening so openly to kill each other, as was Keille’s offer to sell her to Mat. Her jab that women who are scorned can be dangerous was definitely entirely for Rand’s benefit, though.

I had forgotten about the Dreamwalkers’ ability to enter other peoples’ non-Tel’aran’rhiod dreams, though of course this is how the Wise Ones send messages to people across wide distances. It was only on my second reading that I realized that Aviendha was perhaps actually in Rand’s dream herself—she says that she needs help to enter a dream, but I wasn’t sure if that implied that she was being so helped in that moment, or that it was just an explanation of why she was watching over him the old-fashioned way. The arrival of Lanfear shows that a Dreamwalker can do more than just visit a sleeping mind but can actually affect how the dream runs.

That whole sequence was at once both creepy and a bit silly, to my mind. Generally I am annoyed anytime the narrative returns to watching Rand puzzle through his romantic inclinations towards the women in his life, and the symbolism of being torn between Elayne and Min feels a bit pointless when the reader already knows he’s going to end up with three wives. Lanfear’s appearance in his dream reminded me a bit of that one episode in the fourth season of Supernatural, when the angel Anna—with whom Dean has had some romantic tension—comes into Dean’s dream to bring him a message, only to find him dreaming of two lady strippers, one dressed as an angel and one as a demon, making out with each other. “This is what you dream about?” Anna asks flatly, clearly bemused and a bit disappointed in him.

At least Anna didn’t show up naked, though. Or thought that she owns Dean because they dated in his previous life. Because that creepy nonsense is not okay.

I was surprised that Lanfear could mark him in the dream and have it show up in real life. I expected it to be more of a metaphysical kind of marking, and I wonder if she had to pull him into Tel’aran’rhiod to have such a permanent effect, or if she could do something like that in someone’s ordinary dream.

There is a lot of woolly gender stuff in these chapters. I was intrigued by the concept of the roofmistress, and the idea that the Aiel have a sort of separate-but-equal approach to gender parity. The fact that only a woman can own land or a house seems to be viewed as a way of making the genders equal. Women have sole power in certain arenas, men have sole power in others. It is an interesting concept, and I can see why Aviendha sees the “wetlander” way as barbaric and unfair. In Emond’s Field and elsewhere, women have to act behind the scenes or manipulate men in order to control them (with the rare exception of certain rulers, such as the Queen of Andor) and have power. Aviendha may not be aware of how wetlander women exert power in this way, but even if she understood how it worked, she might very well say that having to bully and trick people into doing as you want isn’t actually power at all.

And I would agree with Aviendha on this. Having to annoy and sneak around to accomplish things may or may not be effective, but I would not call it real power, and I certainly wouldn’t call it equal. However, the Aiel way, where equality is maintained by drawing the genders into two separate camps is not equality either. Even if you accept that this separation is entirely equally balanced on the scale—and how could it possibly be—the system still relies upon a strict gender absolutism. Your role in society is largely defined by your gender and your choices and future prospects are mostly determined for you on that basis, with the one exception of the Maidens.

But look what they have to give up in order to occupy a “man’s” space. They are denied the ability to marry or have a family, something that doesn’t happen to male warriors. Granted, this works in the other direction as well… for example, if a man cannot own a home, then he must marry or live at the behest of a female relative. Independence is denied in this way, just as it is heavily regulated amongst Maidens.

(My analysis here is not taking into account the fact that sex and gender are not the same thing, nor the fact that there is a great deal of variation in both sex and gender. But since there appears to be no concept of these facts either in Aiel society or in any of the societies we have so far encountered, I have chosen to meet the discussion as it is presented in the narrative.)

Of course, duty and the honor of custom is the primary driving force of Aiel society, so it isn’t as though the gender rules are an aberration amongst them. Interestingly, you can even see the difference between the Aiel approach to women’s power and that of the lands on the other side of the Spine of the World. Wise Ones, whether channelers or not, are straightforwardly in charge of just about everybody, their role in Aiel society clearly defined and respected by all. By contrast, Aes Sedai work through manipulation and long games, politics, and behind-the-scenes meddling. They are even required to bind themselves with a ter’angreal to limit their abilities.

Of course, a gender binary, and one that is distinctly and irrevocably separated, exists within the very fabric of the worldbuilding of The Wheel of Time, long before any cultures get their hands on interpreting it. Channeling itself, the division of the One Power into halves, each only accessible to one of a possible two genders, declares that in this universe, men and women are separate. Whether or not this division is equally balanced (let us put aside for the moment the fact that separation is inherently unequal, however it is weighted) or not, the separation is clear and irrefutable, built into the nature of the world itself.

And if this is a concept the reader doesn’t particularly care for, it stands to reason that the problem will keep coming up throughout a read of the series.

But there are other concepts built into the worldbuilding of The Wheel of Time that I enjoy much more, such as the clear understanding of the existence and nature of the human soul. We’re still learning about how the Wheel weaves lives into the Pattern, but we know that reincarnation is possible, and that it happens to more people than only the Dragon. We know that souls can be pulled out of the Pattern by powerful artifacts like the Horn of Valere. It also seems like souls who are not currently alive in the waking world can exist, or at least reside for a time, in Tel’aran’rhiod.

All of this makes the concept of the Draghkar a lot more intense and frightening. Honestly, I had forgotten all about this particular type of Shadowspawn. In my defense, we haven’t seen one since Moiraine was nearly killed by one in The Great Hunt, while she was staying with Adeleas and Vandene. It was after this encounter that I understood that the Draghkar were more human shaped—back when the company was chased to Taren Ferry by wheeling Draghkar, I imagined them to be more like the fell beasts ridden by the Nazgûl, but now I can picture them more like vampires, with humanoid bodies and hands, and humanoid lips for their soul-sucking kiss.

The idea of a dark, hypnotic monster that consumes souls is one we’ve seen many times before, in mythology and fantasy, but often in fantasy novels the idea of just what a soul is and how it functions isn’t made particularly clear. The narrative just relies on the reader’s own conceptions of souls as the true essence of someone’s being, in a sort of secularly religious way.

Here in The Wheel of Time, however, we find ourselves facing some much more concrete, and therefore terrifying, questions about the Draghkar. If they consume a soul, one assumes it is actually destroyed, neither returning to the Creator nor being respun into the Pattern. What would happen if a Draghkar was successful in an attack on Rand? Would the cycle of the Dragon be broken? Would the Dark One be able to win so easily as that? It seems like the Pattern and its hold on the Dragon should be stronger than a mere ordinary Shadowspawn—we know the Dark One could destroy and remake Creation if he were able to escape his prison, but it seems wild to me that a being so lowly, however terrifying, could have such a power.

The Draghkar are a lot more frightening than the other Shadowspawn we’ve encountered so far, even the Myrddraal, and their return really does feel like it’s upping the ante in the Dark One’s pursuit of Rand. With disastrous consequences for the Aiel, I might add, and I feel silly for not considering this angle of the Prophecy of Rhuidean—that the destruction of the Aiel might not come either from Rand using them in battle or from changing their culture beyond their recognition, but simply because so many of them end up as collateral damage while Rand attempts to elude the Shadow long enough to fulfill his destiny. It’s a very sad thought.

I also find myself wondering if Rand’s choice not to dress or act more Aiel than he must is a decision he’s made only out of humility. It also seems to be born of a need for self-protection. Rand appears to have more or less come to terms with his heritage, but his initial lack of any sense of attachment or grief in learning about the fates of his biological parents may be an intentional, if subconscious, choice to protect himself from the pain of “losing” Tam as a father. (Of course, Tam will always be Rand’s father, the man who loved and raised him, but finding out that blood isn’t part of that connection can still feel like a profound loss to someone who was never told that they were adopted.)

It also seems that Rand is trying to keep himself somewhat emotionally distant from his personal, connection to the Aiel because he knows that he is going to use them. It will already hurt to sacrifice them the way he feels he must—if he begins to think of himself as one of them, it will hurt that much more. This may even be true of his choice to approach Lian with the more humble address of asking permission to come beneath her roof rather than to enter her hold. He has definitely been thinking a lot this week about how it will be difficult to act with logic and coldness if he lets himself grow attached to the Aiel.

I have a lot of empathy for this decision from Rand, and I think it’s easy to see the bind that he is in. Still, I can’t help worrying that too much detachment from emotion, compassion, and connection will hurt him in the end. Decisions made out of cold calculation without any regard to empathy and feeling are not always the right ones, and when one is facing an enemy that is the literal antithesis of life and love, a little attachment to life and love is probably a good guiding principle.

Which may be why I felt more compassion for the Wise Ones in this chapter than I yet have. Melaine’s outburst, in which she momentarily forgets to be cold and secretive and admits that they are afraid and desperate to protect their people, was a moving one. And Melaine calls out Rand’s detachment from the Aiel, acknowledging that he intends to use them for his own ends. Rand should understand her feelings, considering how he himself frets and worries about being used and manipulated by Moiraine and the White Tower.

But he admits to himself that he intends to use Moiraine too, as much as the thought upsets him. “I’m as bad as she is,” he thinks, wishing that he could trust her.

I keep wondering what would happen if someone were to give a little. If Aviendha were to admit to Rand how painful it is not to have a choice in leaving the Maidens and becoming a Wise One. If Moiraine were to accept that she cannot control Rand utterly, and that she might have more success as an advisor if she gave him the promise he’s asked for. She may not like it, but surely being in his confidences and having his trust would be more effective than what she is doing now, which is just driving him away. She might not be able to stop him from doing something she thinks unwise, once she gave her word, but he might listen to her expertise if she gave it unconditionally.

Once again, the themes of trust, suspicion, and control come up in The Wheel of Time, and the only thing we know for certain is that no one wants to let anyone else know what they are doing. How can they possibly hope to succeed if they cannot unite themselves?

Next week we will cover two more chapters (51 and 52) which have the particularly promising titles of “Revelations in Tanchico” and “Need.” I haven’t finished them yet so I don’t know exactly what’s coming, but it looks like things in Tanchico, like in the Waste, are beginning to pick up speed. I hope you’re looking forward to it! I sure am.

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