Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: Ji’e’toh and What Must Be Done in Robert Jordan’s The Fires of Heaven (Part 4)

It’s Week Four of our read of The Fires of Heaven, and everyone’s wishing for more fires as night falls in Rhuidean. First we get to spend time with Rand and Aviendha, and then we move on to catch up with Egwene as she and Aviendha connect over shared struggles and Moiraine seeks aid from the Wise Ones. I really liked these chapters; there’s lots of beautiful descriptions of the architecture and of how our POV characters Rand and Egwene are feeling. I tend to forget that I actually really like Egwene, but Chapter Five really reminded me of what is best about her as a character.

More on that later. First, our recap.

Rand and his escort arrive at the building where they have made the Roof of the Maidens in Rhuidean. The outside of the building is patterned in spiraling mosaic tile, and a huge stained glass window shows the image of a woman, with pale skin and dark eyes, and hand raised “either to bless or command a halt.” Rand imagines it is the image of an Aes Sedai, her expression both serene and stern. Although no one who is not a member of the society is allowed under another society’s roof (save gai’shain, of course) Rand proceeds inside without stopping, past the two Maidens standing guard at the doorway, who flash comments to each other in Maiden handtalk.

Inside he finds Maidens grouped around, playing games or relaxing. Some call out greetings to him, asking how he is or if he’s hungry, others just nod a greeting or pat him on the shoulder in passing. Rand greets them all back, but refuses the food and doesn’t slow his steps, knowing that to do so will have him caught up in conversation for hours.

The Maidens seem to have adopted him, some treating him like a brother, others like a son, always wanting to make sure he is dressed warmly enough and eating well. Rand can’t figure out how to make them stop—he even considered asking a different society to guard him, but he can’t think of how to explain why he would want such a thing, and surely it would be an offense to the Maidens. He had said, after all, that they carry his honor.

There is nothing for Rand to do but to endure the mothering, and be grateful that it really only happened under the Maiden’s roof. At least he has been able to keep a separate floor for himself—he had chosen the place before it was the Roof of the Far Dareis Mai, and woken one morning to find that they had claimed it and yet expected him to stay. He’s relieved when he eventually reaches his own room and there are no Maidens or gai’shain around him anymore.

Rand doesn’t light a fire, even though it is getting cold. Asmodean tried to show him a way to heat the room by channeling, but even once Rand grasped what Asmodean was explaining, his one try at using the technique resulted in the room becoming far, far too hot. He hasn’t tried again.

Rand thinks about how he let Moiraine get under his skin, how he hadn’t intended to tell her anything about his plans until the Aiel were on the move. But he’d let her make him so angry, and he wonders why he can’t hold onto his temper the way he used to be able to. He doesn’t think that Moiraine can stop him, even now that she knows, but he needs to remain careful. He may be more powerful than she is, but she knows so much more.

In a way, letting Asmodean know his plans was less important than revealing his intentions to the Aes Sedai. To Moiraine I’m still just a shepherd she can use for the Tower’s ends, but to Asmodean I’m the only branch he can hold on to in a flood. Strange to think he could probably trust one of the Forsaken more than he could Moiraine. Not that he could trust either very far. Asmodean. If his bonds to the Dark One had shielded him from the taint on saidin, there had to be another way to do it. Or to cleanse it.

Even Asmodean, one of the most powerful Aes Sedai of the Age of Legends, doesn’t know a way, but Rand pursues the thought anyway, unwilling to give up when the alternative is to go mad and die.

His thoughts are interrupted by the surprise arrival of Aviendha, carrying a pile of blankets. Rand notices that she is wearing a silver necklace and finds himself feeling jealous and wondering who gave it to her. The only other jewelry that she is wearing is the bracelet he gave her, a gesture she still doesn’t seem to have forgiven him for.

Telling himself it is foolish to be jealous, Rand tells Aviendha he’s surprised he hasn’t seen her for ten days—he had thought that the Wise Ones were going to tie her to his arm after they found out he could block them from his dreams. Aviendha replies that she has her own training to do, and isn’t a wetlander woman who has time to stand around for him to look at whenever he wishes. But she also admits that the Wise Ones were not happy when they found themselves blocked from Rand’s dreams, and also weren’t happy when they realized that Aviendha had let him know about their presence in the first place. Rand is surprised that she admitted it to them, and assures Aviendha that he would have put the pieces together on his own soon enough; the Wise Ones themselves had already told him that they could speak to people in their dreams, after all.

“Would you have had me dishonor myself further?” Her voice was level enough, but her eyes could have started the fire laid on the hearth. “I will not dishonor myself for you or any man! I gave you the trail to follow, and I will not deny my shame. I should have let you freeze.” She threw the blankets right on top of his head.

Rand tries to keep calm, thinking about ji’e’toh and how, even though she is “prickly as a thornbush” Aviendha’s presence is still comforting, in its own way. Even though she doesn’t seem to like him much, she at least sees him when she looks at Rand, not He Who Comes With The Dawn or The Dragon Reborn. He even picked flowers to send to her, prickly desert flowers that he’d cut himself on. Not that she ever acknowledges them.

Attempting to soothe things, Rand thanks her for the blanket, but Aviendha tells him that the Maidens sent them when they realized Aviendha was going up to see him. She shakes the ivory bracelet on her wrist at him, reminding him that he said the gift was not a regard gift, that it had no meaning, and telling him that the gift she has brought has no meaning, either.

Rand picked up what she had thrown and turned it over in his hands. A belt buckle in the shape of a dragon, ornately made in good steel and inlaid with gold. “Thank you. It’s beautiful. Aviendha, there is no debt to cancel.”

“If you will not take it against my debt,” she said firmly, “then throw it away. I will find something else to repay you. It is only a trinket.”

When he disagrees, seeing that she must have had it made, Aviendha tells him that the Wise Ones have required all her weapons to be melted down and made into trinkets to give away. Most went to friends, but she was required to also pick three women and three men that she hates and give them gifts too, to learn humility.

Rand thinks that she sounds anything but humble, and is saddened to learn the gift has no meaning. It would have been nice to think she was coming to view him as a friend. He asks if he really is one of those that she hates so much, and she answers that she hates him with all her heart, and always will. But when he says that he will ask for another teacher, Aviendha cuts him off again. Even if the Wise Ones would let her stop, she insists that she has toh to watch over him for Elayne.

Frustrated, Rand objects to this, telling her that he and Elayne kissed a few times but that he isn’t promised to anyone, and that he doesn’t even know if Elayne thinks of him that way. He’s working up to a full tirade about not having time to think about women anyway when suddenly the door opens and Isendre comes in, carrying wine, fully naked except for her jewelry and a sheer scarf round about her head.

She stops, alarmed at not finding Rand alone. Rand keeps his eyes glued to her face, and Aviendha looks furious. She reminds Isendre that she was warned about this, and asks if anyone told her to bring the wine up. Isendre, terrified, whispers a negative. Rand tries to intercede, saying that he is thirsty and Isendre shouldn’t be punished just for bringing him something to drink.

“She was taken by the Maidens for theft from Maidens, Rand al’Thor.” Aviendha’s voice was even colder than it had been for the other woman. “You have meddled too much already in the business of Far Dareis Mai, more than you should have been allowed. Not even the Car’a’carn can thwart justice; this is no concern of yours.”

Rand has to let it go. He knows Isendre deserves anything she gets, since she is a Darkfriend, but he did intercede when the Maidens had been deciding whether to sell Isendre to Shara or strip her naked and have her walk back to the Dragonwall with a single water skin. He’d found himself unable to resist her pleas for mercy.

Once he had killed a woman; a woman who meant to kill him, but the memory still burned. He did not think he would ever be able to do it again, even with his life in the balance. A foolish thing, with female Forsaken likely seeking his blood or worse, but there it was. And if he could not kill a woman, how could he stand by and let a woman die? Even if she deserved it?

Further complicating matters is the fact that Rand cannot reveal Isendre and Kadere as Darkfriends without the truth about Asmodean coming out as well—Isendre and Kadere don’t know his true identity, but they know that he is a high ranking Darkfriend. To keep his teacher, and to keep Moiraine from thinking Rand has gone over to the Dark One and trying to kill them both, he has to keep the secret.

Aviendha has Isendre keep the tray and then sends her to confess what she has done to the first Maiden she sees, and lectures Rand again on how he belongs to Elayne. She reminds him that Isendre has been switched seven times for trying to sneak into Rand’s bed and that she faces the Maidens’ justice, which is no business of the Car’a’carn.

She leaves, with Rand baffled by Isendre’s actions and wondering if he should tell her that he knows her secret; if her motives are gratitude for his intervention on her behalf, that should put an end to any schemes to get closer to him. He has no intention of drinking anything she’s touched, at any rate, and puts the wine aside before lying down in bed, pulling all the blankets over himself gratefully. He lies in the dark waiting for his body heat to warm them, idly touching the scar in his side. It is the one Ishamael gave him, that never fully heals even with Aes Sedai assistance—the one Rand knows will kill him one day. He’s sure that’s what the prophecy means when it references his blood on the rocks of Shayol Ghul.

He pushes the thought aside, and the thoughts of the Seal flaking under Moiraine’s knife, telling himself he won’t think about these things tonight. Sleep comes, and aside from one nightmare about Isendre, he dreams of Elayne, Min, and Aviendha, alone or together. They are nice dreams, and safe guarded dreams, too.

Meanwhile, Egwene is washing in her tent. She uses saidar to heat the water, telling herself that she didn’t grow up in the Waste, and she doesn’t have to be as tough as Amys or Bair and wash in cold water if she doesn’t want to. Letting go of saidar afterwards fills her with remorse, though she laughs at her own foolishness.

That’s one of your biggest faults, she lectured herself firmly. You always want to do more than you’re supposed to. You ought to wash in cold water; that would teach you self-discipline. Only there was so much to learn, and it sometimes seemed a lifetime would be too short to learn it. Her teachers were always so cautious, whether Wise Ones or Aes Sedai in the Tower; it was hard to hold back when she knew that in so many ways she already outstripped them. I can do more than they realize.

Someone opens the tent flap and Egwene yelps at the cold, shouting for the person to come in and close the door. A gai’shain comes in, kneeling on the floor, to inform her that Amys has summoned her to the sweat tent. Egwene groans, thinking that Rand probably doesn’t have to deal with people barging in on him like this, and probably has a real bed and Maidens bringing him hot water for washing in an actual bathtub.

Egwene had wanted a room with a fireplace and a door, but although Amys and Melaine had been amenable, Bair had put her foot down. Egwene puts her shoes back on in preparation for heading to the tent, and tries to be friendly by asking the white-robed woman’s name. She learns that it is Cowinde, but conversation proves difficult. Cowinde won’t say if she was a Maiden before, or her sept and clan, even though it is normal even for gai’shain to offer this information along with their name. She will only say who she serves, and Egwene realizes that the woman is experiencing the type of bleakness that has come upon some of the gai’shain, refusing to say when her time in service is over or anything else, despite a brief flash of passion in her eyes when Egwene mentions the Maidens. Egwene gives up and follows Cowinde to the sweat tent.

Inside she finds the three Wise Ones and Moiraine, with Aviendha serving tea. This is alternately Egwene and Aviendha’s job, but Egwene is startled to note that Aviendha has been recently switched. She’s more than surprised; Aviendha has always worked so hard at every task the Wise Ones have set her on, never seeming to put a foot wrong, always held up to Egwene by the other Wise Ones as a model student.

Even as she thinks it, Bair observes how long it took Egwene to come, reminding her that she may be Aes Sedai on the other side of the Dragonwall but here she must forget that she is Aes Sedai. Egwene tries to make her voice as meek as possible, irked again when Bair tells her how quick Aviendha is to obey summons and commands. But Melaine tells Bair to lecture Egwene later, and returns the conversation back to what they were discussing before Egwene arrived.

She is telling Moiraine that the Aiel follow He Who Comes With The Dawn, not the Aes Sedai. The time may come when the Aiel serve the Aes Sedai again, but it has not yet. Privately Egwene thinks that it will—now that Moiraine knows there are women in the Waste who can channel, Aes Sedai will be coming to find them. She had worried about the Wise Ones being hauled off to the Tower too, but she doesn’t worry about that anymore, although the Wise Ones still seem to. Egwene is pretty sure even Bair could match wills with Siuan Sanche, and she can’t even channel.

Moiraine and the Wise Ones argue over whether or not Rand’s plan to unite the wetlands will be successful, but the Wise Ones are unmoved by Moiraine’s concern for the years of planning by the White Tower that this move will ruin. They insist that the Aiel will do what is best for the Aiel, though Egwene wonders what the clan chiefs will think about this plan. She starts to interject, but Bair stops her, telling her that her knowledge of Rand is valuable but that she must learn to listen and wait until she is bidden to speak. Egwene bites her tongue sullenly, thinking that even though these women believe she is full Aes Sedai, the respect amongst equals does not apply to someone who is also a student.

The conversation goes on, the Wise Ones unswayed by Moiraine’s comments about how other nations will view the Aiel and how many of them will die in this fight.

“The Prophecy of Rhuidean says he will break us.” The spark in Melaine’s green eyes could have been for Moiraine or because she was not as resigned as she sounded. “What does it matter whether it is here or beyond the Dragonwall?”

“You will lose him the support of every nation west of the Dragonwall,” Moiraine said. She looked as calm as ever, but an edge in her voice said she was ready to chew rocks. “He must have their support!”

Bair counters that he has the support of the Aiel nation, a nation that only exists because he has united the clans. They dismiss Moiraine, who acts as though it’s her decision to leave, and then ask Aviendha to pour the tea. Everyone is startled when she admits she forgot to start brewing it and scrambles out of the tent after Moiraine.

Egwene is set to adding more water to the rocks, and she supplements the heat by channeling heat into the rocks and the kettle. Thinking that Aviendha must have a lot on her mind to forget such a simple duty as pouring tea, Egwene leans close to Bair and whispers a question, asking whether Aviendha did something wrong. Bair answers that Aviendha came and asked for the stripes, saying that she had lied twice and her honor required that a toh must be met. She would not say what the lies were, which is her own affair as long as she didn’t lie to a Wise One. Egwene is shocked, but Bair treats it as perfectly ordinary and observes that it was probably nothing anyone but Far Dareis Mai would worry about. In her view, Maidens and former Maidens can be as fussy as men.

Egwene thinks that all Aiel are pretty fussy when it comes to ji’e’toh, but Bair is already returning to conversation with the others, as they discuss the fact that there are more Tuatha’an, Lost Ones as the Aiel call them, in the Waste than ever before. They are fleeing the strife in the wetlands, but Amys observes that she has heard some who are taken by the bleakness are going to join the Lost Ones. Egwene is sympathetic, and the Wise Ones admit to her that they aren’t so much reconciled to the changes Rand brings as enduring them as best they can.

“The Maidens cluster about him as though they owe more to him than to their own clans,” Bair added. “For the first time ever, they have allowed a man beneath a Roof of the Maidens.” For a moment Amys looked about to say something, but whatever she knew about the inner workings of Far Dareis Mai she shared with no one but those who were or had been Maidens of the Spear.

Melaine complains of how the chiefs don’t listen to the Wise Ones the way they once did, how Bael will no longer tell her what Rand says to him, and complaining how she wants to thump him with a stick. Bair laughs, telling her that the only things one can do about such a man are avoid him, kill him, or marry him. Melaine turns red, looking furious, but just then Aviendha returns with the tea to serve.

After Aviendha has tended to the steam and been given permission to serve Egwene and herself, Amys asks what Egwene thinks Rand would do if Aviendha asked to sleep in his chamber with him. Egwene is shocked, but Bair calls her a fool. Of course they aren’t asking for Aviendha to share his blankets, but she asks if Rand will think that’s what she means. Egwene insists that it is improper to ask in any case, and even Aviendha chimes in, first asking respectfully that they don’t require her to do this, then escalating to outright refusal. “I will not be there when he summons that flip-skirt Isendre to his blankets again!” she insists, shocking Egwene all over again until the Wise Ones silence them both, telling them that even the Maidens know that men can be fools without a woman there to guide them.

“I am glad,” Amys said dryly, “to see you no longer hold your emotions so tightly, Aviendha. Maidens are as foolish as men when it comes to that; I remember it well, and it embarrasses me still. Letting emotions go clouds judgment for a moment, but holding them in clouds it always. Just be sure you do not release them too often, or when it is best to keep control of them.”

Melaine reminds Aviendha that she knows her fate, that she will be a Wise One of great strength and authority. Aviendha tries to invoke her honor, but Bair tells her that the Pattern does not care about ji’e’toh. Men and Maidens fight against Fate, but she is not a Maiden any longer, and she must learn to ride fate. The Pattern will sweep her along either way, but only by surrendering can she find some control and perhaps even contentment in her own life.

To Egwene, that advice sounds very similar to the way women are taught to channel saidar: Fight it and it will overwhelm you, but surrender and you can gently guide it. Still, she insists that it would not be proper for Aviendha to sleep in Rand’s room, and the Wise Ones will not tell her why they want it. Eventually she relents a little, supposing that Rand might allow it, if he was given a good reason, because he likes Aviendha.

They move on to the subject of Egwene’s training. She has been unable to find either Elayne or Nynaeve’s dreams, which is a lot more difficult than finding her way to Tel’aran’rhiod—and more dangerous, in its own way, since the person whose dream you enter has much more power over what happens. Once Egwene entered Rhuarc’s dream, and after her control slipped for just a moment she found herself a child, and he was giving her a doll as a reward for studying hard. Under the control of his mind and how he saw her, Egwene had been pleased with the praise and the gift, and had played with it happily before Amys came and dragged her out of the dream again.

“You must keep trying,” Amys said. “You have the strength to reach them, even as far as they are. And it will do you no harm to learn how they see you.”

She was not so sure of that herself. Elayne was a friend, but Nynaeve had been Wisdom of Emond’s Field for most of her growing up. She suspected Nynaeve’s dreams would be worse than Rhuarc’s.

Amys tells Egwene that, if she does not dream of Egwene tonight, they will have words, and Egwene suppresses a moan, knowing how difficult that will be for her.

They start gathering themselves to leave, but Melaine stops Bair and Amys and asks for their help. She asks them to approach Dorindha for her, explaining in the face of their teasing that she cannot take either of the other two approaches with Bael, and so she would like them to ask if Dorindha will accept her as sister-wife. The other two women continue to laugh and tease her until Melaine tells them she would like them to act as her near-sisters in this, at which point they begin to hug her and congratulate her. They depart arm-in-arm, leaving Egwene and Aviendha to clean up.

Aviendha asks Egwene if any woman of her land would accept having a sister-wife and Egwene hedges, not wanting to denigrate Aiel custom, by saying perhaps, if it was a close friend. Once outside she gives the tea things over to a gai’shain, but can’t find her clothes—Bair tells her and Aviendha that they won’t be needing them for a while. As punishment for their stubbornness, for Aviendha forgetting the tea and Egwene taking too long to answer her summons, they must both run fifty times around the camp.

Aviendha starts off at once, and Egwene follows a moment later. Aviendha keeps her pace down so Egwene can join her. As they run, she admits that one of the reasons she studies and works so hard is because the Wise Ones always point to Egwene as an example, how easily and quickly she learns. The two share a giggle, before moving on to talk about Rand. Aviendha admits that she doesn’t really think Rand invited Isendre, but she can’t figure out why else the woman would keep persisting in her attentions otherwise, and Aviendha did see him looking. Egwene counters that, given how the Maidens make her dress, any man would look. The subject of Elayne comes up too, and Egwene tries to explain that while she does hope Rand and Elayne marry, they aren’t betrothed, and even Aielmen have the right to refuse an offer of marriage.

Aviendha still insists that he belongs to Elayne, and Egwene gives up. When she mentions the bedchamber arrangements, Aviendha is surprised at Egwene’s insistence. She asks if Egwene doesn’t trust Rand, or if it’s Aviendha she doesn’t trust. When Egwene references ji’e’toh and the fact that she doesn’t understand it, Aviendha laughs.

“You say you do not understand, Aes Sedai, yet you show that you live by it.” Egwene regretted maintaining that lie with her—it had been hard work to get Aviendha to call her simply Egwene, and sometimes she slipped back—but it had to be kept with everyone if it was to hold with anyone. “You are Aes Sedai, and strong enough in the Power to overcome Amys and Melaine together,” Aviendha continued, “but you said that you would obey, so you scrub pots when they say scrub pots, and you run when they say run. You may not know ji’e’toh, but you follow it.”

Egwene thinks that it isn’t the same at all, that she is merely doing what she has to do, only when she has to do it. They complete their first lap, but even though there was no one there to tell—Aviendha wouldn’t—Egwene doesn’t even think about abandoning the run before she’s completed the fifty laps.

 

Egwene is one of several characters (Nynaeve, Mat, and sometimes Moiraine are other examples, in my opinion) in The Wheel of Time who can be really annoying when in a section not from her POV, but who really grows on me every time she has her own chapter. I really loved the section in the beginning of Chapter 5 where she is lecturing herself on self-discipline, because I think it really sums up Egwene’s character beautifully, and also shows the strain that she and the other young people are under. It’s just like Rand considering that Moiraine still knows so much more than he does, even though he is much more powerful than her. Egwene is caught between the knowledge that she has so much to learn from the Wise Ones and the Aes Sedai on one side and the knowledge of her own strength on the other. Like Rand, and like Nynaeve, she is driven by a sense of urgency that makes patience an entirely different game than it would be otherwise, but I think Egwene is more adaptable than her fellows. She can certainly be stubborn, but it feels a little less personal with her than it does with some of the others. Certainly it’s less personal than it is with Nynaeve.

It makes me feel a little more forgiving towards the attitude she takes with Rand, even though I wish she could find her way to being more of an ally to him. Egwene has a very adaptable nature, generally speaking, and she has completely thrown herself into becoming an Aes Sedai. Her respect for the authority of both the Aes Sedai and the Wise Ones makes her a little blind to the fact that not everyone might be able to accept that authority with the same ease, or trust it for the same reasons she does. As a result, though, I feel like she can’t see Rand as a person anymore. She’s come to see him the way the Aes Sedai see him, and I think that’s to both of their detriment.

Rand has observed this as well, of course. More than once his sections of the narration have touched on the fact that he feels like no one can see him. To everyone he is The Dragon Reborn, destined to Break the World, or He Who Comes With the Dawn, destined to break the Aiel. At most he is a threat, at worst he is an object, a tool to be used against the Dark One and the coming Last Battle. I remarked last week about how Rand is perhaps more distrustful of Moiraine and the White Tower than he should be, that Ishamael’s accusations put a thought in his head he can’t shake out. But this chapter with him reminded me of what it feels like to be Rand al’Thor, still a man somewhere under all that responsibility and power and prophecy. And if I needed the reminder, the characters in the world must need it that much more.

It makes Amys’ advice to Aviendha in this chapter particularly important. Emotions must be suppressed in certain moments, but constantly bottling everything up is dangerous and clouds judgment. How much worse is it for Rand, carrying his secrets and his fears and his frustrations all alone. And he’s not the only one either: Moiraine only confides in Siuan, whom she never sees, and Mat doesn’t tell anyone anything ever. As a result, none of them are thinking quite as clearly as they believe they are.

I assume one of the lies that Aviendha told is that she hates Rand. I think she wants to hate Rand, because the alternative is frightening and against the world view she has for herself. But then, so was being a Wise One, and she’s at least begrudgingly accepted that. And I think that Melaine’s observations about learning to ride fate rather than fighting the Pattern gets me a little closer to answering my question about whether or not there is free will in The Wheel of Time. Imagining riding fate like a wave is a really cool metaphor, and shows that there is a difference in the journey even if it leads to relatively the same destination. I’m sure we’d all rather surf than be tumbled inside the breaking wave. We’ll end up near the shore either way, but the former sounds a lot more fun and like you’d be ready to seize whatever the beach had to offer you when you got there. And you’re much less likely to get grit in your shorts.

I wonder if Aviendha saw the sister-wives fate for her and Elayne in whatever vision told her she would marry Rand, or if she honestly thinks she’s going to end up supplanting Elayne somehow. Because if it’s the latter, then it isn’t just rejecting a life she doesn’t think she wants. She’s also reacting out of guilt, thinking that she’s going to steal Rand, even if unintentionally. This might be why she’s so concerned about her honor right now, and it’s all complicated even further by a bit of jealousy. She doesn’t hate Rand the way she claims, and I think she must be feeling the same pull to him that Min is, the same pull he is feeling to them, even though none of them really know each other enough for it to make much sense. So of course she has personal reasons to want him to stay away from other women, besides her “duty” towards Elayne.

I was really moved by the concept of the Maidens adopting Rand. The detail about how some of them treat him like a brother and others like a son, regardless of their respective ages, was an interesting one, and I kept thinking about how Maidens are the only Aiel denied the ability to have a family. Even Wise Ones can marry, but Aiel women are not allowed husbands, and if they become pregnant they must either choose to give up the spear or give up their child. Either way, they may very well feel that they lose a part of themselves, of their identity—they are not allowed to remain whole. Now, for the first time, a known son of a Maiden has come back to them, and it makes perfect sense that some of them would treat him like a son or a nephew themselves.

I am curious about why Aviendha and Isendre are allowed under the Roof of the Maidens. Perhaps Wise Ones are exempt from the rules about societies entering each other’s Roofs, but surely non-Aiel aren’t included in that exception? And even if they were, you’d think, after all the trouble Isendre has caused, the Maidens would keep her well out from under their Roof.

There are lots of other beautiful narrative details in these two chapters. We got to hear about handtalk again, which I love, and really want to learn more about. It would be pretty cool if we had a deaf Maiden show up at some point—the Maidens have a more fully developed handtalk than any other society, which would make them a special place for women warriors with disabilities around hearing or speaking. I was also tickled by Asmodean’s confusion about how long it takes Rand to learn to do the things he teaches. I wonder if it just seems slow because Asmodean is so used to taking channeling for granted, or because he’s a terrible teacher like he claimed, or if Rand just genuinely learns a little slower than is the norm for powerful male channelers. Maybe Asmodean expects that Lews Therin spirit to make things easier for Rand?

I also loved the description of the building that Rand and the Maidens are staying in. The woman in the stained glass window, with her outraised hand, reminds us of some of the angreal figures we’ve seen, and it also reminds us of the Argonath in The Lord of the Rings. It’s a very evocative and moving image that Jordan presents us with, and one of those little moments that contribute to how large the scope of this series, this world, really is.

Another parallel between The Lord of the Rings and The Wheel of Time is Rand and the wound that won’t heal. Frodo’s wound from the Morgul-knife never fully heals, continuing to plague him every year on the anniversary of the encounter on Weathertop and helping prompt Frodo’s eventual departure for the Undying Lands, where he will finally be at peace. Rand knows his injury will never fully heal either, and he assumes that one day it will kill him. He may be misinterpreting the prophecy—perhaps his blood on Shayol Ghul means an injury, not death, or there could be some even more poetic interpretation—but unless Nynaeve or someone develops a way better method of Healing than we currently have, Rand will probably carry his injury for the rest of his life, too.

I did wonder why Rand told Moiraine the truth about his plans for the Aiel. I can’t decide if I think the detail about his finding it harder to keep his temper is a bit of foreshadowing or not. On the one hand, he’s under enormous pressure, stressed out, surrounded on all sides by people he can’t trust, and he feels like he’s having the same fight with Moiraine over and over again. That’s enough to give anyone a short fuse! On the other hand, Rand isn’t completely hopeless about understanding his emotions, and the fact that he’s so puzzled about this change in himself feels significant. Jordan usually doesn’t devote actual “italics thoughts” to non-significant moments. It’s probably an effect of the taint; since the “madness” comes with destructive tendencies, one would assume that rage comes with it. Unless all those male Aes Sedai just thought tearing up the ground and smashing things to bits was a funny game?

I should say, Rand isn’t completely hopeless about his emotions, except when women are concerned. Most women are pretty hopeless about him too, though, so I suppose it’s fair. You’d think he’d assume that Isendre is trying to get close to him because she’s a Darkfriend (as he knows) and he’s the Dragon Reborn. The followers of the Dark One have been hunting him since the first chapter of The Eye of the World, so it doesn’t seem like a very big leap for him to realize she probably has instructions to try to get close to him, to report back on his doings and maybe even to manipulate him if she can.

I do not like the way Isendre is handled, and this feels like an even more extreme example of the book judging sexually forward women, like it does with Berelain. The sheer veil Isendre wears is even thematically reminiscent of Berelain’s sheer dress. The fact that her punishment for stealing is to walk around naked all the time seems bizarre to me—sure, this is probably a downgraded version of sending someone naked back to the Dragonwall with a single waterskin, but is she just wandering around in front of Kadere and his men, and all the Aielmen and whoever else? All the ladies are naked in these two chapters, and once again it feels ridiculous and glaring that it’s only ever women.

I have so much compassion for Rand when it comes to Aviendha, though. You can feel his desire for a friend, just one friend, bleeding right through the page as you read Chapter Four. It’s more than a little significant that all the women Rand is supposed to end up with—Min, Aviendha, and Elayne—are all women who he feels actually see Rand al’Thor, not just the Dragon Reborn.

I did laugh when Egwene was musing that Rand probably didn’t have people barging in on him! I’m also curious as to whether Melaine’s choice to pursue Bael is her acting under Rand’s influence or not. We know lots of Maidens have been abandoning the spear to lay bridal wreaths at men’s feet, and while her interest in Bael isn’t indicated to be totally out of the blue, Bair and Amys do remark that she always said that she never wanted a husband. Then again, maybe it’s not Rand’s ta’veren power that is driving Melaine’s decisions, or any of the Maidens either. Perhaps it is just the upheaval of their lives and worldviews, and the need to establish bonds with their people in these strange, changeable times.

Two more chapters next week, Chapter 6 and 7, and I can’t tell you what’s coming up in them because I haven’t read them yet! But I am very much looking forward to doing so, and who knows? Maybe we’ll get to see Rand, and the clan chiefs taking their own sweat baths.

Sylas K Barrett does not like the cold very much himself, so he really feels for Egwene this week.

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