Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: Saidin, Saidar, and a Drinking Game in Robert Jordan’s The Fires of Heaven (Part 3)

This week in Reading The Wheel of Time, we return to the Threefold Land to catch up with Rand and Mat. One of them is struggling with the burden of leadership, trying to hold the Aiel together, and to him, while fending off Moiraine and Egwene and secretly learning how to channel saidin from one of the Forsaken; the other wasted and getting a girlfriend who is definitely also a spy. Let’s go!

Chapter 2 opens in Rhuidean, in a chamber high in one of the buildings, which Rand has taken for himself. He looks out over the great, half-finished city and the artifacts collected in the plaza below him. Down there, Moiraine is supervising Kadere and his men in collecting the angreal and sa’angreal she wants them to carry back to the White Tower. His gaze travels further, over the burned shape of the Avendesora tree, which Moiraine has assured him still lives, over the Aiel walking in the streets and the evidence of their residence in the buildings. Then, with a sigh, he turns back into the room.

There is a single chair and a table, found in the city by some of the Aiel , and cushions are scattered about for Aiel to use in their usual fashion, as the six clan chiefs are currently doing. Men who have come to follow He Who Comes With the Dawn, although Rand thinks that while Rhuarc might hold some affection for him, the others certainly don’t. And there are only six, when he needs twelve.

Rand sits down cross-legged in front of the Aielmen, observing the tension in them, the way some of them won’t meet each other’s eyes. It’s not inconceivable that one or more might veil himself against the other; some of these men have blood feud with one another, and Rand doesn’t know if it’s the peace of Rhuidean that somehow still holds them, or if it’s only his presence, their watching and waiting for him, that keeps things calm.

Rand faces those sharp gazes, and begins to talk with them. He asks what he must do to get the Reyn to come to him, and Rhuarc is certain that Dhearic will bring them, eventually. Some of the others are less sure, and they begin to talk about the way so many men and Maidens have sat staring for days, only to finally throw down their spears and run off. Some are more derisive about it than others, but Bruan, of the Nakai—a big strong man with a very placid temperament compared to most Aiel—reminds them that every clan has seen men and Maidens run, and that every man in the room knows how hard it is to face the knowledge.

One of the men, Han, remarks that they should have never learned, that the knowledge was only for those who had entered Rhuidean and survived. Rand thinks of the hard truth that he has revealed to the Aiel people, the information that their ancestors followed the Way of the Leaf, a truth that was formerly only known by Wise Ones and clan chiefs, who had visited Rhuidean and seen the history of the Aiel through their ancestors’ eyes. He knows that Han’s words are meant for him, specifically.

“It had to be told,” Rand said. They had a right to know. A man shouldn’t have to live a lie. Their own prophecy said I would break them. And I couldn’t have done differently. The past was past and done; he should be worrying about the future. Some of these men dislike me, and some hate me for not being born among them, but they follow. I need them all. “What of the Miagoma?”

Some of the others aren’t sure, but Rhuarc is confident that Timolan will bring the Miagoma, and Janwin will bring the Shiande, but it will take time, and they will want to fix things in their own minds first. Han points out that what they’re really doing is deciding how they feel about He Who Comes With The Dawn being a wetlander, no offense to Rand. The discussion continues on to the other clans, who will also come in time, though they have lost more than any others to “the bleakness,” as the Aiel have begun to call it.

That leaves the question of Couladin and the Shaido, and when Rand mentions them even Rhuarc falls silent. At the same time, a group of white-robed gai’shain enter the room to serve food. Rand watches them, thinking of ji’e’toh, the honor and obligation that require this service, this attitude so unlike the ordinary attitude of the Aiel. He thinks about what a strange echo it is of the Way of the Leaf, and then about how the breaking of ji’e’toh was about the worst thing an Aiel could do.

It struck Rand suddenly that this was the real reason that some Aiel took what he had revealed so hard. To those, it must seem that their ancestors had sworn gai’shain, not only for themselves but for all succeeding generations. And those generations—all, down to the present day—had broken ji’e’toh by taking up the spear. Had the men in front of him ever worried along those lines? Ji’e’toh was very serious business to an Aiel.

With the departure of the gai’shain the conversation about Couladin continues. Rand no longer sends messengers to the Shaido because he learned that Couladin has been skinning them alive, and it’s clear that the man will not even listen to Rand, never mind come around to the idea of following him. Rhuarc is equally certain that the Shaido will continue to follow him—they believe that Couladin is a chief, and that he is the Car’a’carn, the chief of chiefs. The other chiefs know that Couladin never went into Rhuidean and experienced the history of the Aiel in those glass columns, but he somehow has the two markings, one on each arm, just like Rand’s.

They talk a little about the cowardice and dishonor of the Shaido, but Bruan reminds them that Couladin’s numbers are growing, augmented by some of those from other clans, those who ran after the bleakness. That raises some ire, but Bruan insists that it has happened in every clan, and that it does not count as breaking clan because they are joining their societies amongst the Shaido.

Rand insists that he needs to know what Couladin is up to, and asks if it would violate honor to send people to join their societies among the Shaido, but even the implication of spying puts the Aiel’s backs up, so he avoids making a joke about finding someone with fewer scruples. The talk turns to news from beyond the Dragonwall but there is nothing new to report; the Dragon banner still flies over the Stone of Tear, and the Tairen have gone into Cairhien to distribute aid, as Rand ordered.

Rand is distracted from some of the men complaining that Treekillers (their name for the Cairhienin) should be either left to starve or sold as animals to Shara by the arrival of Moiraine and Egwene in the doorway. He can see that Moiraine expects him to leave off the talk and he stands.

Sighing, he stood, and the clan chiefs imitated him. All except Han were as tall as he or taller. Where Rand had grown up, Han would have been considered of average height or better; among Aiel, he was accounted short. “You know what must be done. Bring in the rest of the clans, and keep an eye on the Shaido.” He paused a moment, then added, “It will end well. As well for the Aiel as I can manage.”

Han observes bitterly that Rand has a made a good start of breaking them the way the prophecy said that he would, but he also says that they will follow him, reciting the Aiel Oath.

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.

Rand gives the proper response, and the chiefs depart, giving respectful nods to Moiraine on their way out. Rand envies how they seem so sure of themselves, unafraid of Moiraine. He himself is less certain, too aware of the strings she may have tied to him and how she might manipulate him without his knowing.

He regards Moiraine and Egwene, thinking of how much Egwene looks like an Aiel woman with her tan and her Wise One’s robes. But she also wears her Great Serpent ring, passing herself off as a full-fledged Aes Sedai while here in the Waste. It’s something Rand has teased her about before, though she didn’t take the jokes particularly well.

Moiraine tells him that the wagons will be ready to leave for Tar Valon soon, and Rand advises she send a strong guard, as Kadere can hardly be trusted. He adds, turning away, that she has never needed his permission or for him to hold her hand before.

Abruptly something seemed to strike him across the shoulders, for all the world like a thick hickory stick; only the slight feel of goose bumps on his skin, not likely in this heat, told him that one of the women had channeled.

Rand seizes saidin and turns to face them, feeling the One Power fill him like life itself, and the taint like corruption and death. But he can’t tell, looking at them, which of the women struck him with saidar. Their expressions give nothing away, and either of them could be holding the female half of the Power and he would never know. Hitting him isn’t Moiraine’s style, of course, but Rand tells himself that he will do nothing without proof, that he will not allow himself to be goaded this time.

She was not the Egwene he had grown up with; she had become part of the Tower since Moiraine sent her there. Moiraine again. Always Moiraine. Sometimes he wished he were rid of Moiraine. Only sometimes?

He focuses on Moiraine, asking her what she wants of him, calling her “little sister” although he doesn’t know why the term pops into his head. He wonders if it’s a touch of madness.

Moiraine asks to speak alone. Asmodean, or Jasin Natael as everyone but Rand knows him, has been in the entire time, playing on a harp adorned with carved dragons. Rand tests Moiraine to see if she’ll push the issue, claiming she can say anything in front of the gleeman to the Dragon Reborn, but she does insist that Natael be sent away. Egwene however, tells him that his head is swollen like an overripe melon, and Rand feels angry, thinking of how he once believed that Egwene would marry him someday, and now she is taking Moiraine’s side against him.

Moiraine takes a wrapped object from her pouch and reveals a disk bearing the ancient symbol of the Aes Sedai, one of the seven cuendillar seals on the Dark One’s prison. She scrapes it with her knife, and a little piece flakes away.

“How?” he asked, surprised that his voice was still as steady as when the Void had surrounded him.

“I do not know,” Moiraine replied, just as calm outwardly. “But you do see the problem? A fall from the table could break this. If the others, wherever they may be, are like this, four men with hammers could break open that hole in the Dark One’s prison again. Who can even say how effective one is, in this condition?”

Rand can see. He thinks to himself that he is not ready yet, and Egwene looks “as though she were staring into her own open grave.”

Moiraine muses that she might come up with a possible explanation before she carries the disk to Tar Valon, and that if they can figure out the cause there may be a way to fix it. Rand is surprised at the suggestion that she will leave him. She says that she must eventually, and he thinks he sees her shiver, though he can’t be sure. He’s struck by this change, so certain had he been that Moiraine meant to stick with him forever, until she puts the seal away and tells him that they should discuss his plans, at which point he decides that the whole thing is just a ploy to get him to open up to her.

Rand takes out a pipe to smoke, and answers that the Aiel are his plans. Moiraine reminds him that he has brought death and destruction in his wake everywhere, and Rand is quicker than he means to be when he counters that he did not do so in Tear. Moiraine agrees that bringing justice to Tear was commendable, and that she would even praise him for establishing order in Cairhien and feeding the hungry. But none of this helps him prepare for the day he must face Tarmon Gai’don.

They argue, Moiraine saying he wasted the opportunity of having a nation behind him, Rand asking her what she expects, for him to go after the Forsaken right now? Does she know where any of them are besides Sammael? And what if he goes after Sammael only to find three or four waiting for him, or all nine. Moiraine tells him that he could have faced three or four and won, with Callandor in his hands. She tells him he has no plan, that he is just running from place to place, but Rand cuts her off.

He tells them his plan, that he will lead the Aiel across the Spine of the World. He reminds her of everything the Aiel accomplished in the Aiel War, the looting and burning of Cairhien, the fact that they could have taken the Tower itself if they had wanted to.

Anger had him in its grip now. Running and hoping, was he? “Four clans did that. What will happen when I lead eleven across the Spine of the World?” It would have to be eleven; small hope of bringing in the Shaido. “By the time the nations even think of uniting, it will be too late. They’ll accept my peace, or I’ll be buried in the Can Breat.” A discordant plunk rose from the harp, and Natael bent over the instrument, shaking his head. In a moment the soothing sounds came again.

Moiraine counters coldly that this might be the worst thing he could do. She tells him that by this time the Amyrlin Seat will be bringing the news of his coming to every nation, and that, once they are convinced of the truth of Rand’s identity, they will unite behind him because they must. Rand says that she and Siuan are both fools, that half the Tairen would have been happy to put a knife in his back even knowing who he was, and that all the nations will greet him that way unless he subdues them first. That is why he left Callandor in the Stone, to remind the Tairen that he will return and to hold them to him. (Although he privately thinks that there is another reason, one he doesn’t want to say even to himself.)

“Be very careful,” Moiraine said after a moment. Just that, in a voice all frozen calm. He heard stark warning in the words. Once he had heard her say in much the same tone that she would see him dead before letting the Shadow have him. A hard woman.

She excuses herself in perfect respectful tones, even a curtsey, and there is no hint of mockery anywhere in it, but Rand feels it all the same. When she’s gone Egwene tells him that he deserved more than he got, and could at least be polite. Rand takes this as confirmation that she is the one who hit him, but Egwene gives away the truth with a shake of her head, though it’s clear she didn’t mean to.

Rand thinks that something really must be wearing on Moiraine for her to lose composure that way, and as Egwene continues to upbraid him, he realizes that she is trying to compensate for giving up that bit of information. Egwene, he thinks, always works very hard to do what she is doing properly, and it shows in her dedication to dressing like a Wise One as well as in her efforts to behave exactly the way an Aes Sedai should.

Ilyena never flashed her temper at me when she was angry with herself. When she gave me the rough side of her tongue, it was because she… His mind froze for an instant. He had never met a woman named Ilyena in his life.

In his mind, Rand can dimly see the image of the woman he has never met. He thinks this must be the madness again, and Egwene stops scolding him when she sees the look on his face. She even asks if he’s alright, and if she should bring Moiraine back. But Rand tells her that this is something even Moiraine cannot Heal. He asks after Elayne, and Egwene starts to go after assuring him that Elayne is well. She pauses though, and asks what it means to be buried in Can Breat. Rand lies and says it’s just something he heard once, and Egwene tells him to get some rest before turning away.

Rand’s wine goblet floats up from the carpet and drifts towards him, and he snatches it out of the air before Egwene looks back again to tell him that, if he doesn’t already, he should know that Elayne said she loved him. And that he should think about that. Then she leaves, and Rand throws the goblet down, rounding furiously on the gleeman in the corner.

He pins Asmodean to the wall with Air, reminding that he told him never to channel when anyone else is in the room. Natael points out Egwene would have just thought it was Rand doing it, which doesn’t mollify Rand one bit. He does put Asmodean down, though. He thinks it’s lucky that the shield is hidden from female eyes—it was made by a woman, but Natael told him it is a trick called “inverting.” He isn’t able to teach it to Rand, though. His whole attitude is blasé, and Rand reminds himself not to forget that this is a man who swore his soul to the Shadow. He even asks if Asmodean ever thinks of trying to turn back to the Shadow.

Asmodean tells Rand that any of the other Forsaken, except maybe Lanfear, would kill him on sight, if he was lucky. If he’s still around when the Great Lord breaks free, he’d rather go give himself to Semirhage than face the alternative. Rand instructs him to say “the Dark One” rather than the name the Forsaken use. He also adds that Natael isn’t doing a very good job of teaching him, but Natael disagrees. Rand can seize saidin every time he tries, he can tell the Flows apart, and he can shield himself. He adds that Lanfear never intended for him to be able to teach Rand everything. If she had, she would have linked them.

“She wants you to live, Lews Therin; but this time she means to be stronger than you.”

“Don’t call me that!” Rand snapped, but Asmodean did not seem to hear.

He goes on to say that if Rand and Lanfear planned together to trap him, Rand got the raw end of the deal. He asks if they did plan it, asks how much Rand remembers being Lews Therin. Rand assures him that he remembers nothing.

He asks more about linking. “I continually forget how much you don’t know,” Asmodean says, before going on to explain that men cannot link without women, but women can link by themselves. His theory is that this is to balance for the fact that men are stronger than women. Rand feels like he has caught Asmodean in a lie, pointing out that the Five Powers are equal, and that Moiraine told him men and women are of equal strength in the power.

Natael tells him that some women have stronger arms than some men, but in general it is the other way around, and so it is with the One Power, and in about the same proportion. This makes sense to Rand, given how Egwene and Elayne, some of the strongest women to train in the Tower for a thousand years, said they felt like kittens when he manhandled them with the Power. Asmodean goes on to explain that women can’t link together in numbers higher than thirteen, but that thirteen women who are incredibly weak in the Power could still overcome just about any man, no matter his strength. Rand starts to think about what might happen if Egwene and Moiraine linked, wanting to believe their friendship hasn’t been that far lost, but also knowing that she has given her whole heart to becoming Aes Sedai.

He changes the subject, asking about the Forsaken, even though they’ve had the same conversation plenty of times. Asmodean tells Rand he’s already said everything he knows, which is practically nothing anyway. He has learned lots of little details—what little Asmodean knows of where the others might be, what Semirhage finds amusing, that Demandred went over to the Shadow because he was jealous of Lews Therin. Asmodean himself claims that it was the immortality, the endless composing of music through the ages, that seduced him. None of it makes sense to Rand, but he still hopes that he’ll learn things he can use.

Finally, Rand asks Asmodean what he thinks of Rand’s chances in Tarmon Gai’don. Natael hesitates, then begins to ask about the thing Rand took from the square.

“Forget that,” Rand said harshly. There had been two, not one. “I destroyed it, in any case.” He thought Asmodean’s shoulders slumped a trifle.

Asmodean tells him that the Dark One will consume him alive, that he himself intends to slit his wrists the moment he learns that the Dark One is free. It’s a better fate than he’ll receive otherwise, and better than going mad, which he is now as subject to as Rand, since Rand broke the bonds that protected him. Rand suggests there might be another way to shield themselves, and Asmodean tells him he’s a fool, too stupid and blind to know that they are both dead.

Rand asks why Asmodean hasn’t ended it yet, if he is so certain, and Asmodean tells him that he once saw a man hanging from a cliff, who grabbed at a tuft of grass even though he knew it would not be strong enough to support him.

Rand asks if Asmodean saved the man, but Asmodean doesn’t answer. As Rand leaves the room, he hears Asmodean playing “The March of Death” behind him.

In the hall he bows to the five Maidens waiting for him, and greets them. He asks after Joinde, who he thought was with them, and learns that Joinde has gone to leave a bridal wreath at the feet of the man who has been her gai’shain. It is his last day in that position, and while it is not unusual for people to marry those who were their gai’shain, the two are from clans which have blood feud between them, and marrying will mean that Joinde has to give up the spear.

One of the maidens remarks that this is like a spreading illness, with one or two Maidens going off to make a wreath every day since they came to Rhuidean. Rand wonders what they would do if they knew it was his fault—no doubt honor would keep them near him, and their fearlessness, and he supposes that they would find marriage better than some of the other effects he has had on the Aiel. Probably.

He weaves a shield across the doorway, one that will allow anyone to go in and out except a man who can channel. With Asmodean safely secured, he heads out with the Maidens at his heels.

Meanwhile, Mat has been playing drinking games with the Aiel and is quite hammered as he balances on the rim of a fountain and sings a song about Jack o’ the Shadows. It’s only when one of the wagon drivers tells him that it’s not right to sing about death that way that he realizes he’s singing a song that hasn’t been heard in about a thousand years. Thinking that at least he hasn’t been unknowingly singing in the Old Tongue, he switches to “Tinker in the Kitchen” and some of Kadere’s men join in.

The drinking game involves tossing pieces of wood into the air and trying to hit them with knives—no one will play dice or cards with Mat anymore but Mat is still doing pretty well at this.

He had not won as often as he did with dice, but half a dozen worked gold cups and two bowls lay inside the basin beneath him, along with bracelets and necklaces set with rubies or moonstones or sapphires, and a scattering of coins as well. His flat-crowned hat and an odd spear with a black haft rested beside his winnings. Some of it was even Aiel made. They were more likely to pay for something with a piece of loot than with a coin.

One of the Aiel, Corman, suggests that they should call the game, given that the light is failing, but Mat responds that there’s plenty of light, and anyway he could do make the throw blindfolded.

Jenric, the other squatting Aiel, peered around the onlookers. “Are there women here?” Built like a bear, he considered himself a wit. “The only time a man talks like that is when there are women to impress.” The Maidens scattered through the crowd laughed as hard as anyone else, and maybe harder.

Mat insists that he can do it, however, and pulls his scarf up over his eyes, telling Corman to yell ‘now’ when he makes the throw. Mat realizes that he really is drunk for suggesting this, but he can feel his luck around him, just like he can when he knows how the dice will land before they stop tumbling. Corman shouts now, Mat throws the knife, and he hears it hit home.

No one said a word as he pulled the scarf back down around his neck. A piece of a chair arm no bigger than his hand lay in the open space, his blade stuck firmly in the middle. Corman had tried to shave the odds, it appeared. Well, he had never specified the target. He suddenly realized he had not even made a wager.

Someone calls it the Dark One’s own luck, and Mat mutters that “Luck is a horse to ride like any other,” only realizing after Jenric asks him what he said that he has once again spoken in the Old Tongue. The game breaks up, and Mat sits down to contemplate his memories, how he can’t tell the new memories that have been put into his head from his own unless he really concentrates. He considers the spear he got on the other side of the twisted door frame, thinking of what a fool he was to have stepped through it. He’d been looking for answers, and instead he now had a head full of other men’s memories.

A Maiden comes and sits down next to him, introducing herself as Melindhra of the Jumai sept—Mat is aware that not giving her clan means she must be from the Shaido, come to join her society in Rhuidean. She asks if he can always do that. He tells her yes, usually, and notices that there is a keen interest in her eyes. Maidens are dangerous, he knows, but he is interested too, and offers her a necklace from his pile of winnings, telling her that it will look good with her eyes.

She answers that she accepts his “offer” and tucks the necklace away in her belt pouch before complimenting his eyes as well. She says that her spear-sisters have told her about him, but Mat is trying to figure out what she means by offer until he suddenly sees Rand walking through the street with his little knot of Maidens. He excuses himself and hurries after him.

“Rand?” The other man walked on with his encircling escort. “Rand?” Rand was not even ten paces away, but he did not waver. Some of the Maidens looked back, but not Rand. Mat felt cold suddenly, and it had nothing to do with the onset of night. He wet his lips and spoke again, not a shout. “Lews Therin.” And Rand turned around. Mat almost wished he had not.

They look at each other for a moment, and Mat tries to tell himself that he is hesitant to get closer because of the guard of Maidens. Eventually he makes himself go over to Rand, and admits that he’s been thinking about how long he’s been away from home. Rand teasingly asks if Mat is missing milking his father’s cows. Mat tells him that he’s considering leaving with Kadere’s wagons, and Rand tells him that they must all do what they must, insisting that he’s never forced Mat’s coming or going, despite what Mat thinks. The Wheel weaves the Pattern, not Rand.

Mat thinks that makes Rand sound like an Aes Sedai, but Rand just warns him not to trust Kadere, and to watch his back. It sounds like a dismissal, and Rand turns and leaves. Melindhra comes up to Mat instead, having gathered up his his winnings for him, and remarks that she has heard he is nearly a brother to Rand al’Thor.

“In a manner of speaking,” he said dryly.

“It does not matter,” she said dismissively, and concentrated her gaze on him, fists on her hips. “You attracted my interest, Mat Cauthon, before you gave me a regard-gift. Not that I will give up the spear for you, of course, but I have had my eye on you for days. You have a smile like a boy about to do mischief. I like that. And those eyes.” In the failing light her grin was slow and wide. And warm. “I do like your eyes.”

Mat thinks how easy it is to go from pursuer to pursued with Aiel women, especially Maidens, and asks her if ‘Daughter of the Nine moons’ means anything to her. She says it doesn’t, but that there are things she likes to do by moonlight.

 

Okay, Melindhra is one thousand percent a spy. I mean, Rand asked if it would be possible to send spies into their own societies amongst the Shaido, and was told that nobody honorable would do such a thing. But we’ve been repeatedly told that the Shaido have no honor, and even if some of that is a prejudice, there’s clearly some truth to it, too, given how we’ve seen Couladin behave. And now the guy is skinning people alive, so we know he’s willing to go pretty far! Fain is going to be so jealous when he finds out Rand has a new unstable, obsessive nemesis.

In any case, this makes sense as a move from Couladin, and a Maiden will be able to get closer to Rand than a member of any other society might. Melindhra’s interest in Mat’s connection to Rand—as quickly dropped as it was brought up—feels significant in its very casualness. Still, it’s certainly not unreasonable for any Aiel to be both interested in, and wary of, He Who Comes With the Dawn. And after the kerfuffle with Couladin, it makes sense for a Shaido to be even more wary, even if they’re willing to leave their clan and join their societies in Rhuidean.

I’ve been thinking about Couladin’s dragon marks, identical to Rand’s but not received in Rhuidean. There could be an explanation we haven’t encountered yet, but given what we know now it seems like either Lanfear or Asmodean must have given him the marks. I can’t think of what Lanfear would get out of the deception. It would make sense for Asmodean to use Couladin as a distraction to keep Rand off his scent while he went after the sa’angreal statue, and it seems to be common knowledge that the Car’a’carn would have two marks rather than just the one.

Speaking of Rhuidean, I keep forgetting that Moiraine had an experience there, and that we still don’t know what she saw or learned. Given that she had to go in naked, I’m guessing that it was at least a little similar to what novices in the Tower go through, a trip through a ter’angreal which shows her something about herself or perhaps something about her future. Which might explain Moiraine physically lashing out at Rand. It definitely seems out of character for her. Rand notices it and thinks that “something must be wearing at her terribly,” and he even considers an apology, which I believe is a first.

I also think he’s wrong about Moiraine suggesting she might leave as a ploy to get him to open up. It didn’t feel like a threat to me—in fact, her abrupt return to stoically suggesting that they discuss his plan felt more like she was hiding her emotions from him, hiding that slip where she said eventually and paused, hiding that shiver he thought he saw. I wonder if she learned something very dark about her own fate, or about her ability to stay with Rand, that has changed things for her.

I’ve remarked before about how odd it feels to me that Moiraine hasn’t tried any other tactics with Rand, and if she’s running out of time or something she must be desperate enough to try anything. But she’s still pushing him, and still getting the same reaction from him. It’s not like he hasn’t been honest with her, at least since their arrival in the Waste, about why he doesn’t trust her and resists confiding in her. Even Lanfear has figured out that Rand can’t be pushed, and Moiraine might even be at more of a disadvantage with Rand than Lanfear is right now. I don’t think Lanfear knows Rand better than Moiraine—Rand is not Lews Therin, he is a reincarnated soul, which means he could have a vastly different personality than the previous Dragon. But Lanfear does know things about how being the Dragon works, and how being a man who channels works. Plus, she wants Rand to come into his own (in her own way) which has worked to Rand’s advantage before, like with Asmodean. In the long run it’s worse, of course, but right now it’s Moiraine he feels the most immediately threatened by. She is the one right beside him all the time, and being on the same side makes that distrust a little more woolly. “Forsaken = bad” is easy math, whereas “Moiraine is on the side of the Light and will do anything to protect mankind, but that might include controlling me or even killing me” is a bit more complicated.

Really, we have Ishamael to blame. The guy might be dead, but he’s left a mark more important even than the wound in Rand’s side. I’m not saying Rand would get into bed with the White Tower tomorrow if it hadn’t been for Ishamael, but that phrase he planted in Rand’s mind, the idea that the White Tower wants to tie strings to him and control him like a puppet, comes up in Rand’s thoughts almost every time he and Moiraine interact. I think it clouds his judgment a lot.

Granted, I also feel like Rand is on the right track, or at least on a better track than the one Moiraine is proposing. Partly because I know what’s gone on in the White Tower while they have been in the Waste, but also because it feels foolish to the point of naiveté to assume that all the nations will just fall in line behind Rand because of the Prophecy. Most of the Aes Sedai are so afraid of the Dragon’s return that they can’t look at a picture of him—people all over the world are going to react in a myriad of ways. It’s like Moiraine is expecting everyone to be as logical as herself, to be as strong as she and Siuan have been since they were raised to full Aes Sedai. And that just doesn’t make sense. It’s not how people work, and it doesn’t take into account the Forsaken who might already be in place amongst governments around the world, or even other Darkfriends.

Rand is supposed to break the world, and conquering it with an army of Aiel, changing the face of the nations forever, would certainly count along those lines.

It makes a lot of sense that Rand would feel cold towards Egwene, perhaps even more so than towards Moiraine. There is a sense of loss there, a sense of betrayal—Rand must feel, given his fears of the Tower, that she left him to join the enemy. And Egwene is studying with the Wise Ones as well, and Rand knows they were spying into his dreams for a while. It must feel difficult for Rand—heck I have some difficulties with Egwene sometimes. The way she commits so wholeheartedly to something is both a great strength and a great weakness, as we see in the way she interacts with Rand in this section. It feels a bit like she can’t really see the boy she knows for the Dragon the White Tower fears, and it’s really a shame. She’s the only one in a position to reach Rand that way, given that Perrin is gone now and Mat is too afraid to connect much with his friend. Lan is the only one who has shown himself to see Rand as a whole person, really. Even Rand doesn’t know how to do that.

And we see in Rand’s internal narrative that he longs for that connection to Egwene. I wonder what would happen if she tried to compromise, to take his side in some things, to not always criticize his stance just because Moiraine does. Perhaps Egwene fears this will jeopardize her as an Aes Sedai—she’s still only an Accepted, after all, not to mention a fledgling student to the Wise Ones—but once again, I find myself wishing that this cadre of stubborn characters could soften, could bend for each other, just a bit.

I’m not saying I think Rand has everything figured out though. I was surprised he’d just leave Asmodean in the room with him like that—even given Asmodean’s despair, he could still be quite dangerous, and that shield Lanfear put around him won’t last forever. What’s to stop Asmodean from escaping someday, and sharing the info he’s gleaned with one of the other Forsaken, either to try to buy his way back into their ranks or under the coercion of torture? I for one would not allow that man to hear one word of my conversations with Moiraine, even if it wasn’t about something as important as a decaying seal.

We do learn a little bit more about saidin and saidar from Asmodean, although I’m not sure I trust his judgment on everything. The information about how women can work together to channel and men cannot is interesting, I guess, and it follows Jordan’s particular binary idea of men and women—men are strong, wild, lone wolves with incredible power but little ability to connect with people, while women are social, cooperative, and defined by their ability to connect with others. But I think I’m going to call prejudice on Asmodean’s claim that men are just naturally stronger than women in the One Power in the same way (for the same reasons?) as they are stronger than women in the physical sense.

I guess I can see an argument that the One Power is a “magic system” that has correlation to physical strength. There is more than just will at work when one channels, and the use of the One Power often uses words like “holding” which makes them feel very in the physical realm, so to speak. But given the differences in the two, it seems like the physical strength necessary to wield saidar would be very different than that needed to wield saidin, thereby making the comparison more complicated. It also contradicts the idea of the balance inherent in the One Power. The whole point of separate halves, of the Yin and Yang upon whose symbol the Ancient Aes Sedai emblem is based, is equality. If men are stronger, that is not balance. Or is it that men must be “physically” stronger in order to wield the tempestuous force of saidin with equal proficiency? But that suggests that saidin is stronger than saidar, which, again, leaves us without balance.

The more times I type the word “stronger” the more the word seems to lose any sense of meaning, so I’m going to stop there. The point is that Asmodean obviously thinks men are stronger than women. I’m sure every single male Forsaken believes the same. And I’m sure every single female Forsaken thinks women are stronger. How could someone whose greed and pride led them to swear their soul to the Dark One ever think anything else?

What I am fascinated by is Rand’s realization about the Aiel’s response to learning of their ancestral heritage. I think he understands ji’e’toh better than me at this point, but I do remember learning about how gai’shain are captured—there is more honor in laying one’s hand on an armed warrior without killing them than there is in wounding or killing with the spears. This felt very much like a remnant of the Way of the Leaf, as did the fact that there was no dishonor, shame, or guilt associated with time spent as gai’shain. Rand’s realization that some of the Aiel might feel that their ancestors had sworn gai’shain not just for themselves but for their descendants, and that therefore those descendants had broken ji’e’toh by taking up the spear, put the whole experience of that revelation in a new light for me.

The Da’shain Aiel were the Way of the Leaf, more even than they were servants of the Aes Sedai, and this connection to ji’e’toh really drove that home for me.

Also, repeating that oath really drives home how Rand believes he is going to die at Tarmon Gai’don, doesn’t it?

And lastly, we have Mat. Poor boy is at loose ends, and not just because he has too many memories. I think Mat needs a purpose, even though he doesn’t recognize it. Sure, Rand’s ta’veren power may be directing his feet, affecting his choices, but I think that this life of luxury Mat imagines for himself would grow stale eventually.

Mat doesn’t seem to be aware of the fact that these new memories are his own, from previous lives. It’s fascinating to see how the folk in that other realm interpreted “holes in my memories” as being things he can’t remember from other lives rather than what he can’t remember from this life. Although maybe they knew what he meant and just went for the more prankstery option. I suppose there’s even a chance that they aren’t his memories at all? Maybe they just took it literally and filled the holes in his memory with random stuff. I don’t think that’s right, but it’s possible.

In any case, his new lady friend is definitely a spy. Because of course Mat is the one that happens to. It’s the Book Five equivalent of picking up a cursed dagger. Even when it’s not his fault, it still kinda feels like it is. We love him though.

It’s not actually Mat’s new memories that are the important ones this week anyway, because holy buckets, what is going on with Rand? Jordan’s dramatic irony skills strike again—Rand thinks that this mysterious thought about a woman he has never met is a sign of taint madness, but we have a crucial piece of information that he doesn’t have. We know who Ilyena is!

Seriously, when I was listening through on the audiobook I literally said “what.” out loud. How is Rand suddenly getting Lews Therin’s memories? Is this normal for the Dragon Reborn? And even if it is, how the heck does Mat know to call him Lews Therin when shouting his actual name at him doesn’t work? I’m not sure if the narrative is trying to indicate that this sort of thing has happened before, or if it’s just Mat being a little precognitive with his luck powers. Rand doesn’t even seem to notice that it happened, just the way that Mat doesn’t realize when he’s speaking the Old Tongue unless someone draws his attention to it. (Or at least, if Rand does realize what happened, he doesn’t let it show outwardly.)

What does this mean for the identity of the Dragon? Perhaps it is always meant to work this way—Rand will certainly be a more effective weapon in Tarmon Gai’don if he has the memories of other Dragons who came before him. He might be able to learn the real secrets about the Forsaken, since Lews Therin knew most, if not all, of them. He might gain more understanding of battles and strategy. He might even be able to learn more about channeling than Asmodean can teach him. This could change everything.

But it’s not going to change it today. Next week we’ll be doing two more chapters, and have to say, I’m enjoying how some of the chapter titles pair together. Before we had “The First Sparks Fall” and “Fanning the Sparks” now we have Chapter 3 “Pale Shadows” and Chapter 4 “Twilight.” It’s kind of spooky, you know what I mean?

Have a lovely week, stay safe, and I’ll talk to you all on Monday!

Sylas K Barret still doesn’t understand how Aiel societies work. If this is not because xe is still missing a key bit of info that comes later in the book/series, y’all are welcome to tweet at xem ( @ThatSyGuy ) about it.

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