Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: Rand Gains a Following, and a Teacher, in Robert Jordan’s The Shadow Rising (Part 38)

I’m actually feeling a bit somber this week, as we reach the very last chapters of The Shadow Rising. Perhaps it’s because the book ends with such a satisfactory conclusion for (this stage of) Perrin’s journey, as does the task Nynaeve and Elayne were set on by the Amyrlin. Of course their journeys are far from over, and they will all face many new trials and dangers in the books to come, but there is still a certain amount of finality, of a bookmark on deeds well done, and a feeling that at least for a night or two, they can sleep the untroubled sleep of the righteous.

On the other hand, while Rand has also closed a chapter of his journey, for him it is more of a beginning than a conclusion, and it is marred by the destruction of Rhuidean and a shaking of the foundations of Aiel culture. Rand himself observes it more than once in Chapters 57 and 58, and we feel his grief at what he has had to do as well as what he knows he must do in the future. The Dragon is supposed to break the World again, but although Tarmon Gai’don has yet to pass, there has already been a Breaking in the Three-fold Land, as the title of Chapter 57 announces. And this is a somewhat melancholy note for a book to end on.

Chapter 57 opens with Rand eyeing mountains in the distance, the mountains in which he would find Alcair Dal. Ten Maidens accompany him as a sort of honor guard.

You have no society, Adelin had told him when he suggested some other than the Maidens of the Spear might provide his escort. Each chief, whether of clan or sept, would be accompanied by men from the society he had belonged to before becoming chief. You have no society, but your mother was a Maiden. The yellow-haired woman and the other nine had not looked at Aviendha, a few steps away in the entry hall to Lian’s roof; they had not looked intently. For countless years Maidens who would not give up the spear have given their babes for the Wise Ones to hand to other women, none knowing where the child went or even whether boy or girl. Now a Maiden’s son has come back to us, and we know him. We will go to Alcair Dal for your honor, son of Shaiel, a Maiden of the Chumai Taardad. Her face was so set—all of their faces were, including Aviendha’s—that he thought they might offer to dance the spears if he refused.

Behind them, the rest of the Taardad follow, not just the Jindo and the Nine Valleys Taardad, but all the other septs, as well as the Wise Ones’ party and the wagons of the peddlers. Like an army on the march, Rand thinks, and one that is still growing.

He reaches the top of a rise and can suddenly see camps spread out below, tents and pavilions of encamped Aiel. Rhuarc, Heirn, and some forty other sept chiefs come up to join him, each with their own escorts. But Rand knows that the Aiel aren’t looking up at that formidable force, but at Rand, a man on a horse. They can also see the camps of Couladin and his Shaido, too many of them, loping off towards Alcair Dal at the sight of Rand and his forces, forming lines, and veiling themselves. It is more or less what Rand expected, but Rhuarc is shocked to see such behavior, even from the Shaido.

Moiraine is upset that she is not allowed to go with Rand and the chiefs, but Amys tells her that it is men’s business, and that if she went down the chiefs would think they were meddling, and would in turn try to stick their noses into meetings of Wise Ones or roofmistresses. Melaine, on the other hand, is giving Rand a tight look and he can tell that, while she might not precisely agree with Moiraine, she certainly mistrusted what Rand would do. Bair warns him that tired men make mistakes, and that he can’t afford to make any today, that the Aiel can’t afford for him to make any mistakes.

Rand watches the Aiel in the camps shift their attention to the peddlers’ wagons, watching Kadere, Isendre, Natael, and Keille. Egwene comes up to speak with him, and Rand remains distant with her—she is Aes Sedai now. She reminds him that he doesn’t fight alone, that others do battle for him too, and when Rand asks what she means, Moiraine immediately interjects that she fights for him, as does Egwene, as do many more who don’t know it yet, any more than Rand knows them. She asks that he take Lan with him, but Rand sees the two women exchange looks and declines, telling her that Far Dareis Mai carries his honor.

Moiraine is clearly upset, but the Maidens are pleased. Rand turns his attention back to the peddlers, watches the silent standoff between Isendre and Keille and warns everyone to be on their guard. But he doesn’t dare tell them that he doesn’t mean the Shaido. Not yet.

Mat asks if he should come, and when Rand counters by asking him if he wants to, Mat flips a coin for it, or rather, tries to. When he tries to catch it it bounces off his fingers and rolls all the way downhill before falling over, and Mat wishes aloud that Rand “wouldn’t do that.”

Rand tells Mat he can come, then asks Rhuarc if it is time. The Taardad veil themselves and begin to sing a battle song, running in columns towards the mountains. Rand leads his own party down, but as they near the camps a delegation of unarmed men and woman come to meet them, forcing them to halt. They question what Rhuarc and Couladin are doing; one woman remarks that they have heard that the Car’a’carn will be announced today, before all the clans have arrived, and Rand tells her that whoever said so spoke prophecy, before pushing by.

They approach closer to the Shaido lines, both the Shaido and Taardad veiled, but when Rhuarc goes to raise his own veil, Rand stops him. He tells Rhuarc that they are not there to fight, which Rhuarc takes to mean that they should not do the Shaido so much honor as to veil themselves. “No honor to the Shaido,” he shouts, and behind them others drop their veils too. Mat curses, and they ride on.

The Shaido part and fall out of the way, prepared to fight Rhuarc and Rand even against custom, but aware that they could never prevail against such numbers. The Maidens march on, and the chant slowly dies as it becomes clear that no fighting will happen. They pass through the gorge until it opens into the bowl-shaped canyon of Alcair Dal, where they find other Aiel about, grouped by society. Most of the Taardad break off to go join those groups, only Rhuarc’s Red Shields and Rand’s Maidens continuing on with the Taardad chiefs.

They come to a ledge, where one can stand and speak and be heard clearly without shouting, various chiefs and their honor guards ranged around listening. Sevanna is there, and Couladin as well.

Sevanna is on the speaking ledge, demanding that they allow Couladin to speak, claiming that it is her right, since she stands for the Shaido until a new chief is chosen. One of the others acknowledge that it is her right to stand in Suladric’s place, but other than that, only those who have been to Rhuidean may speak, and the Wise Ones did not allow Couladin to enter. Couladin tries to interject, but is shot down, reminded of his place and of custom.

The clan chiefs discuss leaving, or talking of water rights, but then they suddenly become aware of the new arrivals.

Rhuarc strode straight to the ledge, gave his spears and buckler, his bow and quiver, to his Red Shields, and climbed up. Rand handed his reins to Mat—who muttered, “Luck with us!” as he eyed the surrounding Aiel; Adelin nodded encouragingly to Rand—and stepped straight from his saddle to the ledge. A startled murmur rolled around the canyon.

The chiefs demand that Rhuarc send Rand down for standing like a clan chief, and Rhuarc starts to lead them towards the announcement that Rand is He Who Comes With the Dawn, but Sevanna cuts him off, announcing that if an outsider can speak, so can Couladin, and giving him a hand to mount to the ledge as well.

Couladin announces that he is done with customs, and that he is the Car’a’carn, throwing back his shirtsleeves to reveal the dragon tattoos on each forearm, just like Rand’s. Everyone is shocked, Rand and his party most of all, as Couladin announces that he brings change, and that he will lead the Aiel over the Dragonwall again, to bring them victory and riches. Rand is barely listening as he tries to figure out how this could be possible—then he goes to the front of the ledge and displays his own tattoos.

Everyone falls quiet, and Rand notices that Sevanna is shocked—Couladin apparently hasn’t told her the truth—and when Couladin finally notices Rand and breaks off his rant, he points out sneeringly that Rand is a wetlander. Rand agrees calmly that he is, and reminds them of the prophecy, reveals his parentage, and points out that the Wise Ones sent the Aiel to look for He Who Comes With The Dawn across the Dragonwall, not in the Three-fold land.

They argue, Couladin insisting that Rand came with the Aes Sedai, who mean to bind the Aiel to service again, insisting that he went to Rhuidean in secret after the Wise Ones refused him based on the Aes Sedai’s influence. His lies have just enough truth to be believable, Rand thinks, and the clan chiefs are clearly wavering.

Calmly, he asks Couladin what he saw in Rhuidean—the other chiefs urge them to come away and speak in private, but Rand does not allow it. He speaks of Avendesora, of seeing the history of the Aiel through his ancestors’ eyes. Couladin has no answer, but the clan chiefs shoot Sevanna down when she tries to insist that Rhuarc has told Rand these things.

Rhuarc tries to stop Rand from saying anything else, but Rand knows that the fated moment has come, and announces to everyone in the canyon that he saw the Aiel as they once were, when they were called the Da’shain Aiel, and followed the Way of the Leaf.

The Aiel outside the group, the ones ranged around the canyon who are not clan chiefs erupt in a chorus of denials, but the chiefs know the truth now, and although Couladin rants on, Rand can see that Sevanna is beginning to realize that what he told her isn’t true. She is trying to salvage the situation, but Couladin pushes her away and keeps yelling about the Aiel having always been warriors, the onlookers cheering for him.

Softly, Rhuarc asks Rand why he has done this, reminding him how difficult it is for the Aiel to bear the truth, how only one man in three even returns from Rhuidean. He tells Rand that this news will spread, and asks how many will be strong enough to bear it.

He will take you back, and he will destroy you. “I bring change,” Rand said sadly. “Not peace, but turmoil.” Destruction follows on my heels everywhere. Will there ever be anywhere I do not tear apart? “What will be, will be, Rhuarc. I can’t change it.”

“What will be, will be,” the Aielman murmured after a moment.

Finally, one by one, the clan chiefs announce that Rand al’Thor is the Car’a’carn, He Who Comes With the Dawn, ending with Rhuarc. For a moment everyone is silent, then Couladin snatches up a spear from someone and throws it at Rand, Adelin leaping up and catching the spearpoint with her leather buckler. The other Maidens join her, screening Rand as pandemonium erupts. The chiefs try to restore order, but Rand can see veils going up, and spears. He knows he has to do something, or there will be carnage.

He reached out for saidin, and it flooded into him until he thought he would burst if he did not burn first; the filth of the taint spreading through him seemed to curdle his bones. Thought floated outside the Void; cold thought. Water. Here where water was so scarce, the Aiel always talked of water. Even in this dry air there was some water. He channeled, not really knowing what he did, reached out blindly.

Lightning crackles, wind rushes into the canyon bearing droplets of water, and it begins to rain, just a mist at first, but then it comes faster and harder until it’s a downpour, soaking Rand to the bone. Then suddenly some kind of dome forms between him and the water—he can see Adelin pounding on the outside of it as he hears Lanfear’s voice, upbraiding him for playing games and ruining all her plans.

She is there, looking as beautiful as ever and completely dry, and Rand tells her that he did not expect her to reveal herself so soon. He tells her that he knows she isn’t alone, and she curses the man for revealing himself in the dream, but Rand counters that he knew immediately—that of course he expected that she’d come for him out here, where he appeared distracted by the Aiel and Rhuidean. But this trap is his, and he demands again to know where the other is.

Lanfear snaps back at him, asking why he drove Asmodean away with all his talk of “doing what has to be done” if he knew all along. Now the man has found something in Rhuidean that interests him more and has thrown the Draghkar and Couladin at Rand to keep him distracted. She asks if Rand has any idea what kind of effort she had to put into convincing Asmodean to teach him.

All my plans for nothing because you must be stubborn! Do you have any idea what effort it will take to convince him again? It must be him. Demandred or Rahvin or Sammael would kill you before teaching you to lift a hand unless they have you bound like a dog at heel!

She tries again to entice Rand with the story of the two great sa’angreal, but she stops as Rand figures out what he is looking for and opens a door. She asks what is in Rhuidean that makes him so anxious—Rand answers simply “Asmodean.”

He hesitates, not liking to leave everyone behind, not remembering how to shield Lanfear as he once shielded Elayne and Egwene. He wishes he could bring himself to kill Lanfear, then steps through the door and closes it behind him.

Rand finds himself in nothingness, a blackness without sensation, grey stone steps floating suspended in front of him, and he remembers seeing something like them before. Knowing that the stairs will take him where he needs to go he begins to climb, running upwards, each step vanishing after he passes. When he wonders about the steps and where they come from they begin to waver and disappear, and he has to focus on thinking of them as real in order to keep them solid and in place, and afterwards they look fancier, more polished and with carved edges.

He runs and runs, trying not to think about what will happen if he misses a step and falls between the stairs, the old wound in his side aching, wondering if the Forsaken know a faster way to travel. Eventually he notices a figure in the distance and off to one side, and he knows it’s Asmodean. Seeing how the man is standing on some kind of rising platform, Rand stops on one step and his impossible staircase disappears, the stone beneath his feet beginning to rise instead, faster and faster. He can see himself catching up to Asmodean, who looks casual and calm as he rides his metal platform—strange black threads run off from him into the distance.

Rand is shocked when he catches sight of Asmodean’s face and realizes that he is Natael, not Kadere as Rand had assumed. As Asmodean catches sight of Rand in turn his platform speeds up and he begins sending sheets of fire back at Rand, who desperately breaks them up. Realizing that Asmodean is getting away, he changes his defense to an attack, sending his own fire, thicker and wilder, forward towards the Forsaken. They slide around Asmodean over some sort of shield, but Rand is still catching up to him.

Suddenly Asmodean’s platform stops and a bright hole opens before him. He jumps through, and Rand, desperate not to lose him, throws out some of the Power to stop the hole from closing behind him. He flies through the hole after Asmodean, finding himself just outside the fog barrier of Rhuidean, one bootheel sliced through by the hole closing behind him. He charges into the mists.

The thought occurs that he is running blind, and he throws himself down and rolls the last few steps out of the fog. Looking up he can see three bright ribbons stretching across where he would have emerged. They would have sliced through him at waist, chest, and neck, if he had run right into them.

He can see Asmodean running ahead in the distance and gives chase, channeling bolts of lightning just ahead of the man to slow him down. They throw fire and lightning at each other, Asmodean stabbing blindly, the debris Rand throws up parting around the shield Asmodean is protecting himself with. Rand weaves a shield around himself as well, trying to run faster, ripping up the ground ahead of Asmodean, desperate to catch him. The ter’angreal and artifacts delivered to Rhuidean by the Jenn Aiel are smashed, destroyed, and tossed aside by their battle.

Then Asmodean sees what he is looking for and throws himself at a foot long stone figurine of a man holding a crystal sphere above his head. He grasps it with a cry of triumph, but Rand’s hand closes around it just a moment later.

Vaguely Rand was aware of a great, half-buried statue in far-off Cairhien, of the huge crystal sphere in its hand, glowing like the sun, pulsing with the One Power. And the Power in him surged up like all the seas of the world in storm. With this surely he could do anything; surely he could even have Healed that dead child. The taint swelled as much, curling ’round every particle of him, seeping into every crevice, into his soul. He wanted to howl; he wanted to explode. Yet he only held half what that sa’angreal could deliver; the other half filled Asmodean.

They fight each other, stumbling over the other artifacts, desperate not to let go, all the while hammering at each other with the Power. Rand feels that any one of Asmodean’s attacks could “destroy him as if he had never been,” and it takes all his strength to hurl them away. He can feel how exhausted he is too, how his strength is failing, and although Asmodean appears tired as well, Rand doesn’t know if he is at the same level of exhaustion.

As they struggle, rolling along the heaving earth, he feels the press of the small ter’angreal he found in the Stone of Tear, the fat little man with the sword. He doesn’t know if he can use it while also using the great sa’angreal, and he knows the extra power is nothing compared to what he’s currently holding. Asmodean is grimacing at him, and Rand thinks that the Forsaken knows that he is winning.

Remembering those black wires reaching away from Asmodean, Rand calls up the image in his mind’s eye, in the Void, visualizing his target just as Tam taught him to visualize his target in Archery. Asmodean seems to notice Rand’s face going calm in the instant before he strikes, then Rand reaches through the small ter’angreal and uses the power he gains from it to form a sword of Light and strikes out.

Asmodean’s eyes went wide, and he screamed, a howl from the depths of horror; like a struck gong the Forsaken quivered. For an instant there seemed to be two of him, shivering away from each other; then they slid back together. He fell over on his back, arms flung out in his now dirty, tattered red coat, chest heaving; staring up at nothing, his dark eyes looked lost.

Rand rolls away from him, no longer able to hang onto saidin, barely able to hang onto the figure of the man with the crystal sphere, and looks around. He’s pleased to see the glass columns, containing the history of the Aiel, but the Avendesora tree is burning, and most everything else looks smashed to bits, the ground rent. Even the protective fog around Rhuidean is lifting, dissipating, and Rand can see that some of the distant mountains look lower, one whole mountain smashed into a fan of dirt and stone across the valley floor. He thinks of how he always destroys, and wonders if it will ever end.

Asmodean makes a move to crawl towards him again, but Rand threatens him with a fist and he stops, eyes full of despair, desire, and hatred. Then Lanfear shows up, remarking upon the destruction they’ve wrought, observing that she didn’t think any of those little crystal-holding figurines remained—the only one she has been able to locate is broken in half. She tells Rand that this ter’angreal connected him to the great sa’angreal she told him of, and repeats her old line about what they can do together if they have them. Asmodean, meanwhile, begs for her help, and Rand admits that he cut Asmodean off from the Dark One.

Lanfear is genuinely shocked—she did not know such a thing was possible, and Rand responds that he is glad to hear this, since it means that all the other Forsaken will also think that it can’t be done. He will not be taught by someone linked to the Dark One, and now he doesn’t have to be. Severing Asmodean’s connection to the Dark One doesn’t change where his allegiance lies, but it does make him vulnerable to the distrust and avarice of the other “Chosen.”

Asmodean panics, pleading to Lanfear that the others will believe her if she tells them what really happened.

Lanfear stared at Rand, too. For the first time ever that he had seen, she looked uncertain. “How much do you remember, Lews Therin? How much is you, and how much the shepherd? This is the sort of plan you might have devised when we—” Drawing a deep breath, she turned her head to Asmodean.

Lanfear lets Asmodean know that she will tell the others that he went over to Lews Therin, and puts a shield around him to block him from accessing more than a trickle of the Power. It will degrade eventually, she tells Rand, but it will take a few months after which Asmodean really will have no choice but to stay.

Asmodean begs her again, calling her Mierin in his desperation. She reacts violently to that name, lifting him into the air and crushing him with the Power. Rand, desperate to stop her, reaches through the small ter’angreal again and shoots a beam of white hot fire between them. It cuts a gash in between them, exploding a wall and knocking both Forsaken backwards. For a moment Lanfear appears ready to kill Rand too, then her furious expression is replaced with a seductive smile.

She offers to make the mark of her teeth on Rand’s neck permanent; he responds by asking if she hurt anyone back at Alcair Dal, trying to sound firm and not give away his affection or concern for any of his companions by insisting that he needs them. Lanfear is struck by his calculating ways. She tells him that she doesn’t kill, or even hurt, without reason.

For a moment she seems to be searching the rubble of Rhuidean for something, for another moment she seems ready to take the ter’angreal with the crystal from him, and then she opens up a doorway for herself. Rand asks which one of the peddlers she was, and after taunting him about Isendre’s shape, she admits that she was Keille. She also admits to stealing some of the Aiel’s necklaces and bracelets and planting them on Isendre for revenge, and tells Rand if he returns quickly enough he might be able to stop them from sending her off into the desert with only a single waterskin. Then she leaves, reminding Rand that she means for them to rule together.

Rand drew the first deep breath he had taken since her appearance. Mierin. A name remembered from the glass columns. The woman who had found the Dark One’s prison in the Age of Legends, who had bored into it. Had she known what it was? How had she escaped that fiery doom he had seen? Had she given herself to the Dark One even then?

Asmodean, struggling to his feet, tells Rand that it was only his link to the Dark One that kept him from going mad, and that Rand might as well let him go. He’s not a very good teacher, he claims, but they both acknowledge that there is no one else.

Rand picks through the rubble until he finds what Lanfear was looking for, a foot-long carved figure of a woman holding up a crystal. He considers destroying it, but finds he really doesn’t want to destroy anything else. And looking around he can also see that the rents in the ground are spilling up water from deep below the Earth. Soon it will be a great lake, maybe three miles long, and Rand knows people will come here to live. They would grow crops, tend the Avendesora tree, maybe even build a new city.

Rand opens a door and Asmodean reluctantly comes with him, riding the curved stone step through the darkness. Rand decides that Asmodean must go on pretending to be Jasin Natael, the Dragon Reborn’s personal gleeman. He also tells Asmodean that the first thing he will teach is how Rand can guard his dreams.

They emerge back at the ledge finding Lan and Moiraine and the Wise Ones there, while some of the other Aiel have gone. Rand sends one of the Maidens to stop the beating of Isendre, and wraps the two stone figures in his coat. He ignores everyone’s questions in favor of asking his own, and learns that Sevanna and Couladin have left with the Shaido, and that some others from different clans also left, driven away by the truth that Rand revealed. None of the Taardad left, but Rand can see how stricken everyone’s faces are.

He mounts his horse, Asmodean coming to stand by his stirrup and the Maidens fall in around them.

 

This is another one of those weeks where I included a lot of direct quotes from the book in my summary section! Even knowing that all of you have read the books before, and can do so again at your leisure, I sometimes find it hard to give up the poetry in Jordan’s descriptions for utilitarian summary. He also has a very artful way of leading the reader to a conclusion without saying it outright, giving you just enough of a character’s thoughts or observations that you reach an understanding, or half an understanding, around the same time as they do, which I really enjoy, and which is a great vehicle for foreshadowing.

Lanfear has spoken before about the great sa’angreal that she believes would allow her and Rand—well, Lews Therin, really, but that’s a subject for another paragraph—to rule the world, maybe even to overthrow the Dark One himself. It’s easy to tell that her personal draw to the Dark One is based in a hunger for power; Rand doesn’t have a hard time seeing that in her. He hasn’t had temptation in that regard, either… except for one time, when he tried to heal that one dead child in Tear. The fact that he immediately reacted to touching the sa’angreal-enhanced power by thinking that he would be able to heal that child sent a chill through me, and I think one of Rand’s struggles in this series will be trying to balance his compassion and love for people with his need to “do what has to be done.” This entire book has been him telling himself that he must use the Aiel, that he can’t trust anyone, that he must be hard, and while there is certainly some truth to that, I also think that he is in danger of overcompensating, of making himself be too hard, too cold, because he thinks he must be. And if he does that, if he denies his own feelings and sense of compassion, it might result in another incident like that with the dead child.

Moiraine said that Death cannot be Healed, and even though she knows much less than the Aes Sedai of the Age of Legends do, I think she must be right about this. The Lord of the Rings touches on this idea as well; Melkor, and later Sauron, can only twist and taint life, not create it, and the corruption of the elves into orcs is mirrored in the corruption of men and beasts into Shadowspawn. The Wheel of Time also follows a Judeo-Christian model for its worldbuilding, with a single Creator and an opposing devil figure, so the emphasis on the fact that only the Creator can give life seems even more apropos. Of course, there are still ten books to go in the main series, so anything is possible. It may be that they are both a bit right—with the power of the great sa’angreal, Rand may not be able to give life, but he may be able to give sustained animation, one that appears more lifelike than the way he briefly made the dead child’s lungs and heart work. Maybe there will be zombies in a future book in the series.

And it strikes me that this might be part of what Moiraine was trying to say to him, when she and Egwene reminded Rand that he isn’t fighting alone.

“You do not realize what it means that you force the form of the Age Lace, do you? The ripples of your actions, the ripples of your very existence, spread across the Pattern to change the weave of life-threads of which you will never be aware. The battle is far from yours alone.”

I often wish Moiraine would do more to try to earn Rand’s trust, even if it means compromising, but this strikes me as a moment when she really was trying to reach him, and genuinely. Egwene is as well. And it’s clear to me, being in Rand’s head, that he doesn’t understand this. He is the linchpin, the most important actor, and his failure will ensure the failure of all—but it’s still true that others are fighting the battle against the Dark too, and Rand could have more support if he could bring himself to trust the people around him. I understand why he doesn’t of course, but standing alone is a weakness as much as it is a strength.

And now I’m thinking of Elayne’s beautiful observation about the rioting people of Tanchico, how she regretted having to involve them but understood that they were part of events, not just pawns to be discarded, that they did battle against the Dark even if they didn’t know they were doing it. Perhaps if Rand could talk to her, she might point out that this is also true of the Aiel. That it is regrettable that they must suffer as Rand’s tools, but that there is also nobility in the fact that they are to do battle for the sake of the world. The Aiel are proud warriors, after all, and although Rand’s choice to tell them of their ancestors may have shattered some, perhaps this perspective could bring strength. Perhaps they will begin to feel a bit like the people of Shienar.

What is the oath again? Till Shade is gone, till water is gone, into the Shadow with teeth bared, screaming defiance with the last breath, to spit in Sightblinder’s eye on the Last Day.

Somehow, I imagine that is rather close to what might actually happen.

I’ve remarked before on the difference in Rand’s narration to that of the other main characters, and it continues to stand out to me as a bit of an obvious narrative device. It’s almost as if Rand is shielding his thoughts from us in some way, as he hopes to shield his dreams from the Wise Ones. I have to admit, though, it was remarkably effective here. I had deduced that Lanfear was Keille and that Natael was the male Forsaken who showed up in Rand’s dream, but Rand’s plan to trap Asmodean into being his teacher was a complete surprise to me, and a really exciting one.

I remember the thick black cord that Rand severed to defeat Ba’alzamon at the end of The Eye of the World. At the time I was, of course, unaware that Ba’alzamon was really Ishamael, but I did realize that there was no way Rand actually killed the Dark One at the end of the first book—even if I hadn’t known there were more books to come, I think I would have guessed that victory came a bit too easily, and Moiraine was certainly aware that it couldn’t have been done, whatever Rand claimed.

I had assumed that the “man” Rand was fighting was a sort of simulacrum, and that the black cord was the power of the Dark One stretching out from his prison to control it, which wasn’t that far off, really. I had also deduced before this chapter that the Dark One must be offering some sort of protection to prevent the male Forsaken from being affected by the taint. I hadn’t imagined that they had literal tethers to him, however; in retrospect, though, it feels rather obvious that the Dark One would want to have some kind of physical (or rather, metaphysical) attachment to his chosen followers. I’m really impressed by how Rand put all these pieces together—I had the advantage over him, but he figured it out first.

Lanfear asks if it’s Lews Therin or Rand who put together this plan, and I too am curious if and how some kind of memory, even an unconscious one, might be aiding Rand. But I think Lanfear gives too much credit to an identity that died long ago, and not enough credit to the young shepherd that she really doesn’t acknowledge as being a person in his own right. Lanfear seems to be incapable of viewing Rand as anything more than a new vessel for Lews Therin, as though she thinks Lews Therin’s personality and memories will just pop up in Rand one day. Which really doesn’t seem out of character for her, considering her other delusions around the man. He broke up with her and married someone else, after all, but to hear her talk they were joined at the hip every moment of their lives. I have a more reasonable perspective, I think, but I do wonder what kind of memory—instinctual perhaps, like muscle memory for the soul—Rand has of Lews Therin’s learning and experience. And of all the other incarnations of the Dragon as well, for that matter. I imagine it would be useful for the Dragon Reborn to have something like the Avatar state in Avatar: The last Airbender and Avatar: Legend of Korra, and it certainly seemed as though Rand had accessed something like that in his first battle with Ba’alzamon at the end of The Eye of the World. And although what he does here doesn’t feel entirely distanced from what Nynaeve was capable of doing in her battle—we see him copy weaves he’s only seen once, just like Nynaeve does—Rand does a lot of channeling that seems to have at least a little bit of understanding behind it, even if it is a subconscious understanding. I am terribly curious about the carved stone step he manifests, for example, with the curved edges he thinks he recognizes.

There are actually several parallels between Rand’s battle with Asmodean and Nynaeve’s with Moghedien. The greatest difference is the destruction—Nynaeve and Moghedien are trying to still each other, and their attacks are more honed, and the battle appears invisible to anyone who cannot channel saidar. Asmodean is just throwing everything at Rand in huge, powerful, and unwieldy strikes which Rand is desperately deflecting, which causes terrible collateral damage. But both struggles come down to a desperate pitting of strength against strength, and Asmodean and Moghedien’s vastly superior knowledge can only bring them to basically a draw against their younger, less trained, but vastly stronger opponents. Both battles run out the strength of the combatants to exhaustion, and both battles end with a surprise attack of sorts, Nynaeve hurling the evil collar at Moghedien and Rand using the extra bit of power he manages to snatch from the small ter’angreal to sever Asmodean’s connection to the Dark One.

Just as I was thinking last week about how much more power Nynaeve will bring to bear in the future, I can’t imagine what kind of strength and power we will see from Rand a few books from now.

It wasn’t until my second readthrough that I realized it was Asmodean who gave Couladin his fake dragonmarks, and I’m quite curious as to how all that came about—Asmodean must have noticed the tension between the Aielman and his fellows, between him and Rand, and approached Couladin with the offer. But how did he explain away his ability to do it? Couladin may be a scoundrel, but he doesn’t strike me as a Darkfriend or someone who would want to have anything to do with male channeling. But perhaps I am wrong. Or perhaps Asmodean had some kind of really convincing story ready for Couladin when he asked. It doesn’t surprise me that Couladin lied to Sevanna, though. He thought he could have everyone except the Taardad believing he really was the Car’a’carn—of course he included her.

In considering the parallels between Nynaeve’s battle and Rand’s, it occurs to me that Asmodean and Moghedien are also comparable in other ways. They are both reputed to be cautious and sneaky, preferring stealth and planning, ready to jump on a better opportunity should it arise, and preferring to run if the odds turn against them. Indeed, Asmodean does run from Rand, and Moghedien tries to run from Nynaeve as well.

Lanfear places a lot of judgment on these two, which it seems apparent that at least some of the other Forsaken share—she says as much when Asmodean confronts her in Rand’s dream.

“Risk,” she sneered. “You fear risk as much as Moghedien, don’t you? You would creep about like the Spider herself. Had I not hauled you out of your hole, you’d still be hiding, and waiting to snatch a few scraps.”

Both Moghedien and Asmodean also show extreme emotion when they are defeated. Asmodean’s fear and panic are evident; he seems to have no compunction in begging Lanfear for help. I can’t exactly blame him, when I think of what the other Forsaken might to do him, or even, perhaps, the Dark One himself. But it’s hard to imagine Lanfear begging and throwing herself on her knees, even if she was beaten and stripped of her connection to the Great Lord of the Dark. Moghedien begged Nynaeve as well, offering her services and teaching. I don’t want to let Lanfear’s assessment of these two color my own judgement, but I can see how the bolder, hungrier, more prominent of the Forsaken might view these two as cowardly or weak.

Jordan’s talent for description serves him well in the description of Alcair Dal, and I found myself thinking again about how these scenes will look when filmed, given that there is already such a theatrical quality to Jordan’s imagery. The ledge with its naturally-occurring amphitheater-like qualities was fascinating, and I like to think about how its form might have influenced the development of Aiel customs back when they were first learning to live in the Waste. I still don’t love the gendered division of activities, the suggestion from Amys that they can’t get involved because then men will think they can mess with “women’s business” is that same suggestion we’ve had before, that culture can only function smoothly if control is sharply divided.

While I’m remarking upon that, I’ll also mention that I bristled a little at the description of Sevanna—Rand observes that she’s the only Aiel woman he’s seen flash so much cleavage, which the narration seems to suggest is part and parcel with her crass behavior in Alcair Dal. It is especially noticeable in this section where we also see judgment and punishment of Isendre, a character that is presented as promiscuous and amoral. Lanfear’s treatment of Isendre is not related to Isendre’s sexuality, of course, and neither is the Aiel punishment of her perceived thievery, but the narrative judgment is still present.

Given that Isendre is a Darkfriend, it would be a stretch to say that I feel bad for her. But I do feel bad for Mat, whose repeated mantra of “luck” feels very ho-hum, as though he’s basically resigned himself to his situation. He understands little of what’s going on, I’m sure, and he’s as aware as ever of Rand’s pull on him, the way Rand’s power dictates much of Mat’s fate even when Rand isn’t trying to do anything. I wonder if Mat’s power has any effect on Rand’s fate, if it works on Rand in turn, or on others, or if it turns events of chance in Rand’s favor.

I feel like Rand is going to need every scrap of that extra luck in the adventures to come. And who knows? Just like the comparatively small amount of extra power he gained from the ter’angreal of the man with the sword, perhaps the comparatively small bit of extra ta’veren juice he gets from Mat will make the difference between failure and success. And although I imagine it will be a long time before Mat, Perrin, Egwene, Nynaeve, and Elayne are all together again, I look forward to seeing them all fight together, whether they know they are doing it or not.

Tune in this time next week for an essay on reading The Wheel of Time for the first time as an adult! I’m looking forward to talking more about some of the themes and character work of the first four books and how I’ve been engaging with them so far. And then, before we know it, it will be on to the next chapter of Rand and co.’s adventures in The Fires of Heaven. That is an evocative title, and I’m terribly excited to find out more.

A wonderful week to all of you, my friends. May you walk ever in the Light.

Sylas K Barrett is very tired, now. But not as tired as Rand al’Thor. I would like to go to the beach, I think. Rand probably would too.

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