Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: Perrin Hunts Slayer and Faces Death in Robert Jordan’s The Shadow Rising (Part 36)

Perrin Aybara, y’all. Perrin. Aybara.

I’m not ashamed to admit I actually cried a little this week, while making my way through the climax of (this part of) Perrin’s story. In order to cover the action and themes more completely, I’ve decided to do something a bit unconventional this week of our read of The Shadow Rising: I’m going to cover Chapter 53 and then skip ahead to Chapter 56, so I can address Perrin’s two chapters together. Then next week I’ll go back and cover Nynaeve and Elayne’s adventures in the Panarch’s Palace. What happens to the girls is just as exciting as what happens to Perrin, maybe even more so, and then, the following week, we’ll get to see Rand reveal himself to the Aiel and have a very intense adventure reminiscent of both the ending of The Eye of the World and The Dragon Reborn.

And then The Shadow Rising will be finished! It’s hard to believe we’re there already.

But we’re not out of the Westwoods quite yet. So let’s go catch up with Perrin and Faile, and see what fate awaits Goldeneyes and his Falcon.

Chapter 53 finds Perrin seated with Tam, Abell, and Cenn Buie, trying to keep his mind on the proceedings and the sleep from his brain. The men discuss what their current weapons store looks like, and Perrin overhears the Women’s Circle reminding each other that the men must not know that the women are all on half rations. He thinks wearily that it makes sense, since the men are doing the fighting, and thinks of how glad he is that Faile has accepted a bow and at least stayed back from using a spear. Bran suggests that it’s time for Perrin to get some sleep, but Perrin pushes him off.

Just then a boy, Dannil Lewin, arrives to tell Perrin that a badly injured man has arrived with a message for Perrin. The Whitecloaks have brought him in, but he doesn’t have the strength to come all the way to the inn. Faile and Aram follow Perrin out, and Perrin reflects on how Aram seems to have replaced his people and his family—neither Ila nor Raen have spoken to him since he picked up the sword—with Perrin. Outside about thirty of the Companions are guarding the entrance to the inn, and Perrin can see the Whitecloak camps in the distance.

Dannil readied ten Companions to escort Perrin, all young men who should have been laughing and carousing with him, all with bows ready to see him safe. Aram did not join them as Dannil led the way down the dark, dirt street; it was Perrin he was with and no one else. Faile kept hard by Perrin’s side, dark eyes shining in the moonlight, scanning the surroundings as though she were his whole protection.

They go down to meet the Whitecloaks on guard by the entrance to Emond’s Field, their white cloaks, Perrin notes, standing out in the darkness in a way that would allow any Trolloc to easily spot them. There is also a cluster of villagers, who move out of the way to let Perrin kneel beside the injured man, who keeps repeating “Perrin Goldeneyes” until Perrin reassures him that he is the man he is seeking. He manages to get out the words “We are coming,” before falling back dead. No one among the villagers recognizes him, and the Whitecloaks just ride off when Perrin asks where they found the man.

Faile tells Perrin he really needs to go to bed, but then another boy comes to report movement in the Westwoods. Faile follows him, muttering about Perrin’s thick-headed stubbornness, to where they find Bain and Chiad standing with Tomas, who admits that he only summoned Perrin because he thought Perrin might be able to see whatever the single figure out in the darkness was doing.

Perrin peers out, and recognizes the shape of a tall figure carrying a human in its arms. He shouts for Loial to come to them and the Ogier does, lumbering into the camp and all but collapsing after he’s set Gaul down. He tells Perrin that they managed to close the Waygate, and Gaul adds that Loial carried him most of the way back, outrunning a Myrddraal and about fifty Trollocs. The Ogier himself is unhurt, but clearly exhausted. He warns Perrin that there must be several thousand Trollocs already in the Two Rivers, and as many as fifty Myrddraal.

Lord Luc arrives at that moment, loudly contradicting Loial and insisting that there are no more than a thousand Trollocs left in the Two Rivers. He argues with Gaul too, then rides off smugly into the night. Perrin thanks Loial for what he has done, and tells him it is time for him to sleep. Faile loudly adds that it is time for Perrin to sleep as well.

Back in his room, Perrin promises Faile to undress properly for bed, only to fall down on the mattress in everything but his boots. He is mulling over the varied reports of the Trollocs, thousands according to Loial and Gaul, only one thousand according to Luc, and scattered according to the Whitecloaks. But the wolf dream might give him a way to find out which estimation is actually true. He falls asleep, and finds himself in daylight, standing in the Green.

As he scanned for [ravens], a patch of sky darkened, became a window to somewhere else. Egwene stood among a crowd of women, fear in her eyes; slowly the women knelt around her. Nynaeve was one of them, and he believed he saw Elayne’s red-gold hair. That window faded and was replaced. Mat stood naked and bound, snarling; an odd spear with a black shaft had been thrust across his back behind his elbows, and a silver medallion, a foxhead, hung on his chest. Mat vanished, and it was Rand. Perrin thought it was Rand. He wore rags and a rough cloak, and a bandage covered his eyes. The third window disappeared; the sky was only sky, empty except for the clouds.

Perrin is surprised to find the hammer at his belt again, and has to concentrate to make the axe appear instead, as well as a quiver, bow, and bracer on his forearm. Then he begins to stride across the land, searching for evidence of Trolloc camps, finding hundreds of fires which must mean thousands of Trollocs. He travels south, finding less evidence of their presence but also stumbling across the remainder of burned Tuatha’an caravans. At Deven Ride he finds some scanty blockades of wagons, and half a dozen Trolloc camps encircling the place, keeping the people penned inside. He wonders if he could get word to them, send them south in hopes of finding some way across the White River.

He finds a similar situation at Watch Hill, but also a banner with the old red eagle of Manetheren waving in the breeze. He wonders if Alanna or Verin told stories of Manetheren when they passed through.

He finds much of Taren Ferry burned, but no Trolloc camps nearby, and the ferry itself is still there and usable. He finds evidence of people fleeing the town, as well, and does the mental math on how long it would take them to reach Baerlon, how long it would take the news of what was happening in the Two Rivers to reach Queen Morgase, and how long an army might take to reach them. He estimates three months, with luck—far too long for Emond’s Field to wait.

He bends down to pick up a doll with a painted face and an arrow streaks by, just missing him. He leaps a hundred paces into the woods, nocking an arrow of his own, and considers leaping again but changes his mind, knowing that Slayer must have seen where he went. Instead he waits, ravens swooping overhead now, and he catches a cold scent, human and yet not, and thinks that while Slayer stalks well, he was not used to being hunted.

A hint of movement, and for an instant a face appeared above a fallen pine some fifty paces away. The slanting light illuminated it clearly. Dark hair and blue eyes, a face all hard planes and angles, so reminiscent of Lan’s face. Except that in that brief glimpse Slayer licked his lips twice; his forehead was creased, and his eyes darted as they searched. Lan would not have let his worry show if he stood alone against a thousand Trollocs. Just an instant, and the face was gone again. The ravens darted and swirled above as if they shared Slayer’s anxiety, fearing to come below the treetops.

Perrin waits, patiently, for Slayer to appear again. Waits for him to come closer, to step fully into view. And then he fires. The ravens warn Slayer and he turns to take the arrow in his chest but not in his heart, howling with pain and then fading, growing misty and disappearing before Perrin’s eyes. Perrin wonders if that’s how you die in the dream, and thinks that at least Slayer is finished. Perhaps the wolves will be safe now.

He steps out of the dream and wakes to moonlight and the sound of Tinkers playing fiddles somewhere in the village. He thinks that he knows what he has to do now, but his thoughts are interrupted by shouting, and when he goes to the window to find out what is going on, he learns that Lord Luc just rode off, hunched over his saddle as though injured, nearly riding down some of the Companions in his haste to leave Emond’s Field. Perrin doesn’t know how to reconcile the difference between Luc and Slayer’s appearance, but although their scents are also different, he notes that both smell cold, and hardly human. He gives orders that Luc is to be restrained and put under guard if he returns and shuts the window again, puzzling over the impossibility of Luc and Slayer being the same person. But he also recognizes that two years ago he hadn’t believed in Trollocs or Fades.

Still, Perrin has other things to worry about in this moment, and he takes himself downstairs where he finds Aram waiting, Gaul stretched out on a pallet with the Maidens and Faile talking nearby, and Loial sitting up scribbling in his book. He asks Faile about Luc, as she tries to order him back to bed, and after Gaul’s health. Then he takes her aside, trying not to sound too urgent, and asks her to take a message to Caemlyn for him. He explains that he needs her to pass through Watch Hill and warn them of what is going on in the Two Rivers, then to travel to Caemlyn to ask Morgase to send some of the Queen’s Guards. He assures her that Bain and Chiad can get her there safely and that they can hold out in the Two Rivers until she gets back, claiming to know through the dream that there aren’t more than a thousand Trollocs left. He tells her that he’s worried about the Trollocs continuing to burn crops and causing other problems, and that they need help to be rid of them completely, and that she’s the logical one to go since she, the cousin of a queen, would know how to talk to Morgase.

Perrin tries to make it sound like he’s asking her to go despite how dangerous he knows the trip will be, while simultaneously thinking of how much more dangerous it would be for Faile to stay, and Loial nearly gives the game away when he comes over to ask Faile to carry his book with her, and tells her that the name Faile suits her, that she should fly free. Faile, clearly distressed, agrees to go but only for a price. And that price is that he marry her. Perrin agrees readily, promising that they can say their betrothal vows in front of the Women’s Circle and then marry when she returns, but Faile insists that she will marry him before she goes, or she will not go at all. Perrin tells her that it isn’t possible, that custom demands a waiting period. She shyly and haltingly admits that she may have already broached the subject to Mistress al’Vere and Daise Congar and that they all agreed that they were basically betrothed already. Her explanation is awkward and embarrassed, and Perrin cuts her off with a kiss, asking her to marry him that night.

So they get married, with Loial and Aram standing for Perrin and Bain and Chiad standing for Faile, and Perrin’s hands tremble as he recites the marriage vows. But Faile—surprising him by using her given name—says hers without trembling at all.

Chapter 56 opens with Perrin writing a letter to Faile, as Aram stands against the wall, watching him. Perrin wishes he knew what it was the Tinker wanted, and wonders if it’s right to still think of Aram as a Tinker. Ban al’Seen arrives to let him know that there are thousands of Trollocs on their way, and Perrin finishes his letter and leaves it on the mantle, addressed to Faile Aybara, then adjusts the way the marriage ribbon hangs down his lapels and tells Aram that it is time to go to work.

Outside they join the Companions, and find the women assembled on the Green, armed with makeshift polearms and kitchen knives, with all the young children in the center of their circle. Daise informs him that they have a plan, that if the Trollocs break through the women will see the children out, and the older ones have been given charge of the younger ones, to help them hide in the woods until it is safe to come out again.

The older ones. Boys and girls of thirteen and fourteen had toddlers strapped on their backs, and held smaller children by the hand. Girls older than that stood in the ranks with the women; Bode Cauthon had a wood-axe gripped in both hands, her sister Eldrin a boar spear with a broad point. Boys older were out with the men, or up on the thatched rooftops with their bows. The Tinkers were in with the children. Perrin glanced down at Aram, standing by his stirrup. They would not fight, but each adult had two babes fastened on his or her back and another cradled in the crook of an elbow. Raen and Ila, each with an arm around the other, would not look at him. Just to keep them safe until they could come out.

Perrin tries to apologize for sending Faile away, but the women assure him they all understand, and knew what he was doing the whole time, just as Faile probably did. They send him on his way, and Perrin tells the Companions that, if things go badly, they are to come back and help the women get the children to safety. He tries to tell Aram that he is included in this, but the former Tinker answers that he goes where Perrin goes, and Perrin wonders if real Lords ever have to deal with things like this.

They finds all the Whitecloaks at the edge of the Green, mounted, but not at their places for battle. Byar tells him that they are leaving, that they refuse to stay and die in the trap they believe Perrin, as a Darkfriend, has laid for the village. To get them to stay, Perrin tells them that he will surrender to them when the battle is over, and when Bornhald calls it an empty promise, as Perrin means for all of them to die in this fight, he tells them that they can run away if they want, leave people to die at the hands of the Trollocs as they have before, but if they need courage they can look to the women, any one of whom is braver than the whole lot of the Whitecloaks.

This works on Bornhald, though Byar resists, and the Captain promises Perrin that he will see Perrin dead. Perrin avoids Aram’s question about keeping such a promise by continuing to check that everything is ready. He touches base with Abell’s forces by the Westwood, and Tam’s men to the South where Alanna is working some of the catapults. Everywhere he finds the leaders standing tall and saying brave words, and the cheer of “Goldeneyes!” follows him as he passes.

He takes up his own position in the North, looking in the direction Faile had gone and mentally urging her to fly free. Bran is in charge there, with Gaul and Chiad and Loial, who had been offended when Perrin had suggested that he could slip off into the woods and escape. He even made a joke about someone writing of an Ogier hero, but to Perrin it is no joke, and he thinks to himself that Loial is a hero, whether he sees that or not.

Perrin has to make himself stop surveying the faces around him, stop counting them and saying the names of his friends and neighbors. He catches sight of Verin, standing with Tomas beside more catapults, and he observes to her that even keeping track of a ta’veren isn’t worth dying for. Verin answers that they could not go yet, and that Perrin is as interesting a study as Rand, in his own way, as is Mat. If she could split herself into three she’d latch on to each of them and never let them out of her sight, even if she had to marry them.

Perrin jokes that he already has a wife, but Verin tells him that he doesn’t know what marrying Zarine Bashere means, and asks him when he is going to give the axe up for the hammer.

Staring at the Aes Sedai, he reined Stepper back a pace, pulling the axe out of her hands, before he knew it. What marrying Faile meant? Give up the axe? What did she mean? What did she know?

But just then the Trollocs arrive, shouting the word “Isam.” He forces himself to act calmly, to ride the line and give orders for the volley to be released at four hundred paces. He tells himself that Faile is safe, that this is all that matters, and then gives the order to loose.

Volley after volley strike the line of Shadowspawn, Trollocs and even Myrddraal going down, but there are so many it seems to make no difference, and then they are at the stakes, flinging themselves upon the defenders, who fight back until the line of humans begins to bulge and buckle. Perrin gives the order to fall back between the houses even as the unending wave of Trollocs pushes them backwards. He sees Two Rivers folk fighting, defending each other and dragging the wounded back, sees Tomas protecting Verin who has lost her horse and is firing bolts of flame from her hands, but he can also see that it’s not enough as they are forced slowly back and back.

A Trolloc grabs at Perrin, knocking Stepper down and pinning Perrin’s leg between the combined weight of horse and Trolloc, but Aram slices through the Trolloc’s neck with his sword and turns smoothly to keep fighting as Stepper rolls clear and Perrin scrambles to his feet. A Fade attacks him then; Perrin cuts the Myrddraal’s horse out from under him and sinks his axe between its eyes.

Suddenly the women are there, fighting alongside them, helping to hold the line. They are the only reason the line is holding, Perrin realizes, and the Whitecloaks are nowhere to be seen.

A boy comes running to him, struggling to get Perrin’s attention, and tells him that Tam wants him to know that somebody is attacking the Trollocs. The boy doesn’t know who, but Tam heard them shouting “Deven Ride.” Perrin tells the boy he did well and sends him back to the other children, then manages to climb up onto Stepper again to get a better look at what is happening.

Beneath a red-eagle banner at the edge of where the fields had been stood long rows of men in farmer’s clothes, shooting their bows methodically. And beside the banner, Faile sat Swallow’s saddle, Bain at her stirrup. It had to be Bain behind that black veil, and he could see Faile’s face clearly. She looked excited, fearful, terrified and exuberant. She looked beautiful.

Some of the Myrddraal try to regroup the Trollocs to face this new threat in the men from Watch Hill, but they can’t, and the Shadowspawn forces begin to fall to the arrows and to their own panicked comrades. The boy returns to tell Perrin that that the Trollocs on Tam’s side are breaking, that the newly arrived forces there are definitely from Deven Ride. Perrin asks they boy’s name and learns that it’s Jaim Aybara, and that the child is some relation to Perrin. Perrin tells him that he must tell his children about this one day, and their children, but the boy replies that girls are horrible. Perrin, thinking of Faile, assures him that will change.

Jaim looked doubtful, but then he brightened, a wide grin spreading across his face. “Wait till I tell Had Lord Perrin called me cousin!” And he darted away to tell Had, who would have children, too, and all the other boys who would, one day. The sun stood straight overhead. An hour, maybe. It had all taken no more than an hour. It felt like a lifetime.

Perrin rides to meet Faile, who is uncharacteristically hesitant when she greets him, assuring him that the Watch Hill men were ready, that she barely had to say anything to convince them to come. She’s elated that they followed her, and anxious when Perrin doesn’t say anything, insisting him that he can’t be angry, that she said she would go but not how far. He finally cuts her off with an “I love you.” The words feel inadequate to him, but she seems happy.

Faile asks if the men from Deven Ride came, admitting that she suspected this was what the dying man had meant by “we are coming,” but that she hadn’t wanted to raise his hopes in case she was wrong. He pulls her into the saddle with him, beginning to promise that he would never be angry with her, but she cuts him off, assuring him that he would regret such a promise and telling him that he must always explain if he is angry, since that is the only way she can know to engage with the problem. Perrin agrees, aware that the deal won’t go both ways, but in the moment he doesn’t care.

Perrin looks out across the field, strewn with the corpses of Shadowspawn, and thinks that of course it isn’t enough to pay for the lives of those who died, for his family. But instead of seeing only who isn’t there in the crowd of Two Rivers folk, today he sees the faces of those who are, and Faile in his arms, he thinks, is enough.

Everyone gathers around Perrin, bruised and bloodied, elated but silent, and Perrin begins to get nervous. And then the Whitecloaks appear, pristine and untouched by battle, and the people mutter angrily as they make room for them to approach Perrin. Bornhald announces that it is done, the Trollocs are finished, and so Perrin must be arrested as he agreed to be. Faile is horrified, shouts of “No!” rise in the crowd, but Perrin raises a hand to forestall all of it. Quietly, he reminds Bornhald that the agreement was that he would surrender if the Whitecloaks aided in the fight, and asks where they were. Daise Congar steps forward to announce that they stayed lined up on the Green, unmoving, even as the Two Rivers line was about to be overrun, and this was what made the women come to the men’s aid.

Bornhald tells Perrin that his “plan” to have everyone killed by the Trollocs only failed because others arrived to help, and insists that he will see Perrin hang even if the world burns. The Two Rivers folk are ready to fight, drawing their bows and arrows, but Perrin motions for them to lower their weapons.

“You would not help.” His voice was cold iron, anvil-hard. “Since you came to the Two Rivers, the help you’ve given has been almost accidental. You never really cared if people were burned out, killed, so long as you could find somebody to call Darkfriend.” Bornhald shivered, though his eyes still burned. “It is time for you to go. Not just from Emond’s Field. It is time for you to gather up your Whitecloaks and leave the Two Rivers. Now, Bornhald. You are going now.”

Bornhald does not seem the least bit afraid, but he does lead his men through, Byar sneering at Perrin as they pass, and the Whitecloaks ride away north.

Perrin is then greeted by some of the men from Watch Hill, who explain that they must get home, that they’re sorry for leaving so abruptly, that they want to run the Whitecloaks out of their town as well. The mayor of Watch Hill calls them Lord Perrin and Lady Faile, and compliments them both on the quality of their spouse. Perrin is frustrated all over again by everyone’s instance on calling him and treating him as a Lord, but Faile calls him a fool and asks her husband if he can be alone with his wife anytime soon. Perrin kicks Stepper in the direction of the inn, for once not minding the cheers of “Goldeneyes” that follow him.

In a tree on the edge of the woods, Ordeith stares southward towards Emond’s Field, cursing them, desperate and furious that his plan to lure Rand back to the Two Rivers has failed. He notices the banner of Manetheren, which gives him a new idea of how to scourge the Two Rivers, and finds himself clutching at his belt where the knife should have been. The dagger that is now in the White Tower, his rightful possession taken by the Aes Sedai.

He drops out of the tree, surveying for a moment his entourage, his hounds as he thinks of them, men who are unrecognizable as Whitecloaks now and the one Myrddraal who seems as blank, distrustful, and afraid as the men.

The Halfman feared Isam would find it; Isam had not at all been pleased when that raid on Taren Ferry let so many escape to carry away word of what was happening in the Two Rivers. Ordeith giggled at the thought of Isam discomforted. The man was a problem for another time, if he still lived.

He tells them that they are riding for Tar Valon, but first to Caemlyn, thinking of how the Two Rivers will pay, and then Rand al’Thor will pay. He kicks his horse forward, knowing that the others will follow. They have nowhere else to go now.

 

I hardly know where to start with these two chapters! So much happens to the Two Rivers, to Perrin and Faile and Loial, and not just physically. The internal, emotional journey is also layered and complex, and the narration in this section is incredibly tight. In my opinion, this is Jordan at his best. His writing is evocative and detailed, and yet every single line has a specific purpose, imparting exactly the information and exactly the mood that the section needs without any extraneous words.

I was a bit surprised at how affected I was by the fight to save the Two Rivers. Not because the situation wasn’t fraught and poignant for the characters living through it, but because the action itself, the trope and the beats of it, are so common. It’s the Helm’s Deep trope, replicated by so much SFF both in literature and on screen, and it always unfolds the same way—with a few desperate soldiers and a handful of civilians and children holding fortifications against an overwhelming force of evil, with the desperate and noble bravery of those who know they will die but refuse to go down without a fight, with the unexpected arrival of reinforcements at the eleventh hour, and with the way the battle immediately turns from hopeless to quickly won.

So it isn’t as though I didn’t know how it would all (probably) turn out. But even though the beats were familiar, even though I knew as well as Faile did what “We are coming” meant, watching it all play out in the narrative, watching Perrin struggle with the loss he knew was coming, really hit me. Part of that is the effectiveness of the trope, and part is, as I have mentioned, Jordan’s skill in executing it. When Perrin was looking at all the faces, listing their names, I really was with him in that moment, and I mourned with him. When he left his letter behind for Faile, I imagined her reading it long after his death, and I felt in my bones how he used the act of saving her to give himself the strength to accept the loss of everyone else, to accept his own death. He came back to Emond’s Field prepared to sacrifice his life for his family, but no part of his death was supposed to include the deaths of others.

I was particularly touched by Perrin’s brief exchange with Loial about how the Ogier might be able to sneak off into the woods. Loial, of course, asked how Perrin could think that he would run away, but Perrin didn’t ask because he thought Loial deserved to be safe more than the children of the Two Rivers, or even because the Ogier are such a peaceful people. He asked because Loial is his friend, and he was trying to make peace with leading his friends to their death.

And then Loial makes the joke about being in a story himself, finding humor in the suggestion that an Ogier could be a hero, and Perrin thinks about how Loial is a hero, whether he sees it or not. All I could think about in that moment was the fact that Perrin can see this fact so clearly in his friends, but not in himself. He has become a hero too, even though he never wanted to be, and the concept is just as ridiculous to him as it is to the Ogier. That’s Perrin’s modesty at work, but more than that, I think Perrin doesn’t view what he is doing as heroic because he believes that he has no choice. He doesn’t see that everyone around him is also “just doing what has to be done,” the same way he is.

Ever since Slayer mentioned that more Trollocs had to be brought to the Two Rivers because of Perrin’s interference, that Emond’s Field would suffer more than originally intended because Perrin came home, I’ve been worried that we’d see an appearance of the “It’s all my fault” trope, where Perrin tortures himself wondering if everyone would have been safer had he not come, where he questions his choice to demand that others stand up and fight with him. I was very glad not to see it, and instead to watch Perrin engage with the complexity of the situation in gentler, more relatable ways. He never says or thinks that the people of the Two Rivers were better off when they were waiting for the Whitecloaks and the Trollocs to either go or finish each other off, never wishes he had made a different choice or left when he could.

Instead, he has moments like the exchange with Alsbet and the other women on the Green. Perrin apologies for tricking them and sending Faile away and they assure him that not only do they approve of his actions but that they knew all along what he was up to, and Faile almost certainly did as well. It might have been my favorite moment in this section. I liked the acknowledgement of Perrin’s humanity, and the insinuation that the women felt, as I did while reading, that after all Perrin has given his people, he deserved to have this one thing. They may be calling him Lord now, but he is still Perrin, and they love him as one of them, not just as a leader. And because Faile understood what he was doing the whole time, because she chose to let him have it rather than actually being tricked, it isn’t like the last time when he tried to make a unilateral decision about her life and right to choose him with open eyes.

I also loved Perrin’s letter, and how, just as he can’t see himself as a hero, he can’t see that he actually does have a way with words, at least when things are really important to him. Perhaps he thinks that he ought to be more florid, but there’s nothing particularly prosaic about “When you hear the breeze stir through the apple blossoms, it is my whisper that I love you”. And it makes sense that he’d be good at writing, since you get to take your time and think your words through, the way Perrin likes to do. I relate to him a lot that way.

Then again, maybe his disappointment in his writing is just because he’s aware that there really aren’t any words, any sentiments, that can cover the pain she’ll experience at losing him.

But let’s rewind for a moment and talk about “Isam” because this feels like a huge clue. As you all know, I expected from the beginning that Lord Luc and Slayer were the same person, and that Luc was in charge of marshalling the Shadowspawn forces in the Two Rivers—this is why Slayer knew about how the plans of the Shadow had changed when Perrin arrived, and how he knew that one of the initial reasons for the Trolloc presence was to hunt down “the traitor,” aka Padan Fain who is now Ordeith. The injury Luc sustained when Perrin shot Slayer confirms this, I think, not only because of the timing but because the Fade under Ordeith’s control is worried about getting in trouble with someone called Isam, and if Luc and Slayer are the same person, then so must Luc and Isam.

Still there is something particularly significant about the Trollocs chanting Isam’s name that I can’t quite put my finger on. I don’t imagine a horde of Shadowspawn would chant the name of any old Darkfriend, even a high ranking one. One of the Forsaken, sure, but I don’t think Slayer is one of the Forsaken. Birgitte said that the man wasn’t old but the evil of him was, so perhaps he really is the Dark’s answer to Perrin, someone with a long-lost ability that has risen again now that Tarmon Gai’don approaches. Or perhaps he is someone corrupted by an ancient evil, like Mat almost was, and like Fain has been.

Actually, going the Mordeth+Fain=Ordeith route might be the best theory about Slayer, and it would explain a lot of the inconsistencies we’ve seen. I had initially supposed that Slayer appeared in Tel’aran’rhiod as he actually looked, and that the visage of Luc was a disguise, some kind of illusion as might be used by the Forsaken. (Slayer isn’t a channeler, but he has some kind of supernatural abilities, so why not that one?) However, given what Nynaeve learned last week about altering her physical appearance in the Dream World, it seems plausible, or even more likely, that the visage he wears there is a disguise instead, and Luc’s face is the real Slayer.

The only thing about that theory which gives me pause is the fact that Dream World Slayer looks so much like Lan. This seems very significant, narratively speaking. Perhaps the man models his Dream look after Lan because he aspires to be a certain kind of person, equating the look of the lost king of Malkier to his own goals of attaining power and nobility. It’s more likely, however, that Lan has a long lost brother or cousin or something, a relative who survived the destruction of Malkier somehow and has now fallen to the Shadow, or been corrupted by something. If that’s the case, it brings another well-loved trope into play that would fit very well into the world of The Wheel of Time.

But there is something else I feel compelled to consider here, and it is only because I have come to know Jordan’s writing well at this point. It is this line:

Darkhaired Slayer looked like Lan’s brother or cousin; if Luc, with his red-gold hair, resembled anyone, maybe it was Rand a little.

Ordinarily I would think nothing of this line, and merely read it as a quick way for the author to put a picture in our minds. But this is Jordan, who almost never puts in any extraneous details. So I thought about it a bit harder; Rand could have quite a few long lost relatives out there, on both sides of his family. Oh, right, like that brother of Tigraine who disappeared in the Blight. And Luc tells Gaul that he has spent many days in the Blight. And after a quick search through the glossary I confirmed that yep, Tigraine’s brother was named Luc.

Hang on, I have to go lie down for a second.

SO we definitely have Rand’s long lost brother in the mix, who is also a man called Isam and who, at least in Tel’aran’rhiod, sometimes looks like Lan instead of like a Mantear. Do Rand and Lan both have long lost family members? Is that too much? And how have they become the same person, this cold-smelling creature the wolves call Slayer? I suppose Isam could be someone who died when Malkier fell, and whose spirit has partly possessed Luc somehow. There is precedent there with the way Mordeth merged with Padan Fain, which is what got me on this thought path in the first place.

Wow. If that’s right, I must tip my hat to Jordan for bringing soap operas into The Wheel of Time.

Okay. This has blown my mind a bit, but there are still many other things to discuss before we’re through. Like how this is the second time Perrin has been intrigued by a doll when Slayer’s been around. The first time was when he found the doll with the glass face, which mysteriously disappeared out of his hand and went back to the steps from which he had just picked it up. A moment later he sees ravens flying towards the Mountains of Mist, remembers that they had heralded Slayer before, and sets off after them only to discover that the Waygate is still usable, that someone has opened it and allowed the Trollocs to start coming through again.

This time, his interest in a doll literally saves Perrin from being skewered by one of Slayer’s arrows. Is there more than just coincidence at work here? Is someone trying to help him, or get his attention, without revealing themselves? My first thought was Birgitte, who we know can’t seem to stop herself from interfering but who is also not supposed to. But Verin is another suspect, especially given her words to Perrin before the battle. Has she been spying on him in his dreams, the way the Wise Ones (and Lanfear) have been watching Rand? I had assumed that the hammer always hanging at his belt instead of the axe was a manifestation of what Perrin really wants, but now there seems to be some question there. Is Verin making the hammer appear, for some reason, and if so, why? And while I can imagine that marrying Faile makes Perrin nobility and signs him up for all sorts of roles and responsibilities he hasn’t anticipated yet, I can’t figure why that would be related to choosing a hammer instead of an axe.

But in the same way Perrin sees things about Loial that he can’t see about himself, his thoughts on Aram’s identity seem to show a way forward for Perrin to understand his own newfound role and future. He finds himself still calling Aram a Tinker in his mind, and wonders if that is appropriate. But, Perrin thinks, “a man could not stop being what he was, sword or no.” Perrin has struggled, almost comically, against the appellation of Lord since he arrived back in the Two Rivers, repeating over and over again that he is just a blacksmith. His observations about Aram’s identity show how he views his own, that his roots and who he was are immutable, no matter how much he has changed. But if Aram is still a Tinker regardless of whether he lives a Tinker’s life, then Perrin is a blacksmith even if he goes on to also be a great lord, either of the Two Rivers or in his wife’s home in Saldaea. He may not want to be a lord, but being a blacksmith does not erase the possibility the way he claims it does.

I am so curious to see where Aram’s story takes him. Curious and worried. Although I understand, and even agree, with Perrin’s decision that no one can force Aram to keep the Way of the Leaf or deny him a weapon if he chooses to take one up, there is also no one to guide the young man in his choices. He has cleaved to Perrin like a baby duck imprinting on its mother, and maybe Perrin can provide the guidance Aram needs, but it may also be too much to ask of someone, especially a man who has so many other responsibilities. Without family, without other Tinkers leaving with him the way the first non-Da’shain Aiel split from their fellows in small groups, he is going to find himself utterly alone if he isn’t able to make some friends. He would probably be better off if he could join the other Companions; it’s unclear right now if they will continue to follow Perrin or stay in the Two Rivers, but either way, companionship and family will be necessary for Aram, and I worry that staying aloof and acting like he’s Perrin’s own personal Warder will not be good for his mental health and stability.

Speaking of people who have no mental health and stability, I feel vindicated in every judgment I ever made about Whitecloaks after they were willing to stay on the Green and let the people of the Two Rivers get slaughtered. It’s no less than I would have expected from them, but, as Perrin points out, it really throws their priorities and habits into sharp relief. Byar is an extremist and Bornhald has let grief deprive him of all ability to use logic or detachment, but what is the excuse of the rest? Hopeless fight or no, men who declare themselves the best warriors for the Light should have stood between every one of those people they believe a Darkfriend was trying to get murdered.

Hold up, though, because Byar and Bornhald aren’t calling Perrin Darkfriend anymore. They are calling him Shadowspawn, graduating (or is it demoting) him from a human who has given himself over to the Dark to a creature created by the Dark One, less than human, devoid of any chance of ever having been part of the Light, or returning to it the way a human can. As far as I can remember, this hasn’t happened before, and it seems to be a mark of how their feelings about Perrin, their hatred and anger at being outmaneuvered and denied, is evolving.

Kind of like Ordeith’s hatred, anger, and need for vengeance. I’d almost forgotten about the man, and being reminded that he subdued a Myrddraal was a bit of a shock. He seems to have the same corrupting effect on humans as his dagger did on Mat, and the last sentence of Chapter 56, that he knew they’d follow him because they “had nowhere else to go now,” was chilling. That now really brought home the sense of Ordeith having done something to them.

On a slightly lighter note, I was moved by the reminder that the Tinkers could help Emond’s Field without fighting, with the way they played their music to help keep spirits up, and the way they were there to help take the children to safety if the worst had happened. Pacifism does not mean being useless, does not mean someone is unwilling to recognize or make hard choices, and although I come down more on Perrin’s side in this issue, I recognize and value the reminder in this moment. It also serves as a stark contrast with the Whitecloaks’ choice to wait out the battle. The Whitecloaks’ inaction is selfish and cruel, and there is nothing cruel in the Tinkers’ choices except (in my opinion) their intense ostracization of Aram.

I’ve also been enjoying watching Gaul and Chiad’s little romance blossom in the background of everything, although I worry because I know Chiad would have to give up the spear if they wanted to be together. That seems to be only for marriage, however—a Maiden can have a lover if she likes, so there are still plenty of way for that relationship to grow. The way she and Bain teased him in order to get him to let them help with his wounds was really cute, too.

Whew. I’m tired now, though not as tired as Perrin and his friends. Next week we will return to Tanchico and catch up on Nynaeve and Elayne’s doings, and there will be much excitement with the Panarch and with Moghedien. Where Perrin’s chapters were moving yet predictable, there is much in Chapters 54 and 55 that surprised me. I’m looking forward to getting into it, but in the meantime, I’m going to go hug the one I love, and leave you all with the end of Perrin’s letter to Faile, grateful that she will never have to read it.

Never think I have abandoned you. When the sun shines on you, it is my smile. When you hear the breeze stir through the apple blossoms, it is my whisper that I love you. My love is yours forever.

Sylas K Barrett will admit it, he is an incurable romantic, and he is happy that today, love wins.

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