Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: Darkfriends Clash in Robert Jordan’s The Fires of Heaven (Part 12)

This week in Reading The Wheel of Time, I’m going to do that thing I like to do, where I jump around within a few chapters and group my responses thematically rather than chronologically. This week is covering Chapters 18 and 19, but we’re only going to be talking about the Darkfriend stuff, about Liandrin and Moghedien and Padan Fain and Alviarin. Then next week we’ll cover the bulk of Chapter 19, which is everything that happens to Morgase.

I’m tackling the read this way because I have too many things to say about the Queen of Andor, and I just couldn’t fit it all into one post! But that’s not what we’re doing today, so let’s move on to the recap and check in with the remaining members of Liandrin’s company. They’re… not doing so great.

Chapter 12 opens with Liandrin riding through the streets of Amador, her face hidden by the same deep Amadician bonnet that Nynaeve and Elayne used to disguise themselves while escaping from Galad in Sienda. She hates the style of the bonnet and the bows, but the bonnet does serve to hide both the fact that she is a Taraboner and that she has the face of an Aes Sedai. She feels secure enough to sneer at the Whitecloaks and soldiers as she passes them, knowing that no one will think to search for Aes Sedai in a place where they are outlawed.

Even so, she felt a little better when she turned in at the elaborate iron gates in front of Jorin Arene’s house. Another fruitless trip looking for word from the White Tower; there had been nothing since she had learned that Elaida thought she was in control of the Tower, and that the Sanche woman had been disposed of. Siuan had escaped, true, but she was a useless rag now.

Liandrin is derisive of the merchant’s house, the way it aspires to look as close as it can to those of the nobility without actually overreaching its station in a way that might offend the upper classes. She despises the “childish pretense at a noble’s manor” and the black that merchants use for their livery, to avoid appropriating colors that belonged to some testy lord. She thinks about how she will have manors herself one day, and palaces, and the power that has been promised to her.

The servants are terrified of her, and the lady of the house—who had once tried to greet her as an equal—is nervous and deeply respectful as she informs Liandrin that there is a visitor from Tar Valon, currently in the front drawing room with Liandrin’s companions. Liandrin starts for the staircase, wondering who it could be, since the names of the other Black Sisters are not known to her, for safety’s sake. She also thinks about how everything had gone so badly in Tanchico that she could almost have believed that Nynaeve, Egwene, and Elayne were there.

Had they been in Tanchico, they would have fallen into her hands, whatever Jeaine claimed to have seen. The next time she found them, they would never escape anything again. She would be done with them whatever her orders.

But her thoughts are interrupted by the lady of the house, Amellia, asking Liandrin to have pity on her husband. He has been punished by Temaile for putting aside his oaths to the Dark Lord, and now is a bed-ridden invalid, who shivers even in the heat and cries at the slightest touch or noise. Liandrin magnanimously says that she will ask Chesmal to have a look at him, but she already knows that Chesmal—formerly a talented member of the Yellow Ajah—has said the man might be able to do small tasks in a few months.

In the drawing room she finds the ten remaining Black Sisters standing at respectful attention, save for Temaile, who is serving tea to a seated woman Liandrin does not recognize at first—she looks vaguely familiar but is clearly not Aes Sedai, as she doesn’t have the ageless look about her. Still, Liandrin approaches with caution, seeing uneasiness, nervousness, and even tears on her companions’ faces. She starts to ask what is going on when she suddenly remembers where she’s seen the woman before. There had been a servant in Tanchico, Gyldin, who in Liandrin’s opinion had continually gotten above herself. She snaps at the woman and reaches for saidar to teach her a lesson, only to run right into an invisible wall that blocks her from the True Source even as a glow surrounds Gyldin.

“Stop gaping, Liandrin,” the woman said calmly. “You look like a fish. It is not Gyldin, but Moghedien. This tea needs more honey, Temaile.” The slender, fox-faced woman darted to take the cup, breathing heavily.

Liandrin can see by her companions’ attitudes that this must be true, but she can’t imagine why one of the Forsaken would masquerade as a servant. She knows that there might be friction among the Forsaken, given some of the conflicting orders they have received, and deduces that Moghedien must be hiding from the others. She curtseys deeply, welcoming Moghedien in respectful, humble words. She also, fearfully, apologizes for the way she treated Moghedien in Tanchico, but Moghedien irritably tells her that of course she hid herself from Liandrin, and of course she didn’t actually go to the cook to be beaten, but merely made him believe that he had done as Liandrin ordered.

Relieved that she is not about to be killed, Liandrin tells Moghedien that there is no need to shield her, that she is loyal and was a Darkfriend long before she went to the Tower. Moghedien wonders if she is the only one among the group who doesn’t “need to be taught who her mistress is” and lets her go, then tells them that she has assignments for them. Liandrin is offended when Moghedien says that they are inept, and informs her that they are waiting for orders from the Tower. They had almost succeeded in Tanchico, before the whole city exploded, and she thinks that if Moghedien had revealed herself and taken part, they certainly would have succeeded. She reaches for saidar, just to make sure the shield is no longer there.

Moghedien cuts off Liandrin’s insistence that they have been given important work to do, and tells her that whoever gives them orders from the White Tower takes them from one of the Chosen by now, and that they serve whichever of the Chosen decides to snap them up. But her words only serve to show Liandrin that Moghedien doesn’t know who heads the Black Ajah; it is a revelation to realize that the Forsaken are not omnipotent. It also reinforces her conviction that Moghedien is on the run from the other Forsaken. She thinks that turning Moghedien over might earn herself a place among them, and wonders if she might perhaps bring her trick to bear, the one where she worms unto people’s defenses and compels them to do and think what she wants.

“Do you think that you are my equal, little sister?” Moghedien grimaced in disgust. “Did you stand in the Pit of Doom to dedicate your soul to the Great Lord? Did you taste the sweetness of victory at Paaran Disen, or the bitter ashes at the Asar Don? You are a barely trained puppy, not the packmistress, and you will go where I point until I see fit to give you a better place. These others thought themselves more than they are, too. Do you wish to try your strength against me?”

Liandrin insists that she doesn’t, crawling forward and begging at Moghedien’s feet, calling herself the woman’s loyal hound, a worm beneath her feet, but it is only a ruse. She strikes out with saidar, seeking for that crack in Moghedien’s confidence, the one that exists in everyone’s façade of strength. But even as she does so, Moghedien is suddenly surrounded by the glow of saidar and Liandrin is wracked with pain, too agonized even to cry out, thrashing until the pain vanishes again, leaving her weak and weeping.

Moghedien asks if Liandrin begins to see, pausing to compliment Temaile’s tea, then asks if Liandrin wants to know what “that pitiful thing you tried against me” is really like, and channels again. Liandrin immediately begs forgiveness again, calling herself a dog and a worm but meaning it this time, wondering how she could ever not have seen how perfect this woman was, above all Kings and Queens, as Liandrin calls her Great Mistress and begs to be allowed to serve her. Moghedien answers that she is not Graendal, and pushes Liandrin away with her foot.

Suddenly the sense of worship was gone. Lying there in a heap, weeping, Liandrin could remember it clearly, though. She stared at the Forsaken in horror.

“Are you convinced yet, Liandrin?”

“Yes, Great Mistress,” she managed. She was. Convinced that she dared not even think of trying again until she was certain of success. Her trick was only the palest shadow of what Moghedien had done. Could she but learn that…”

Moghedien thinks Liandrin might be one of those who requires a second lesson, and warns her that a second lesson will be exceedingly sharp. She is bidden to take her place with the others, and told that Moghedien has taken some of the objects of power she had in her room. Liandrin goes to stand against the wall as the others are, and is bound with flows of Air that stop her mouth and her ears. She doesn’t even let herself think of saidar, worried that the Forsaken might be able to read her thoughts. But then she thinks that she’d be dead (or still writhing on the floor, or trying to kiss Moghedien’s feet) if Moghedien knew what she was thinking. One at a time they are released and given orders that the others cannot hear, departing in various different attitudes. Rianna looks relieved by her orders, Marillin surprised and eager, Jeaine horrified. Berylla and Falion keep their expressions blank, while Ispan Shefar (who is also from Tarabon) actually kisses the hem of Moghedien’s dress.

Then the rest are released at once to kneel before her, and Moghedien tells them that they have been reserved for the most important task of all, a personal one, and Liandrin’s head comes up at the mention of Nynaeve’s name. Moghedien asks if Liandrin knows her.

“I despise her,” Liandrin replied truthfully. “She is a filthy wilder who ought never to have been allowed in the Tower.” She loathed all wilders. Dreaming of being Black Ajah, she herself had begun learning to channel a full year before going to the Tower, but she was in no way a wilder.

Moghedien tells them that they are going to find her and bring her to Moghedien alive. The smile she gives makes Liandrin shiver and think that she rather likes the idea of turning Nynaeve and the others over to Moghedien. She even thinks that, for this, her move against Moghedien can wait.

Skipping ahead to the last section of Chapter 19, we find Padan Fain creeping through the halls of the White Tower, feeling at home in the darkness, feeling the distant awareness of Rand, and feeling something else, too, a sharper desire than even his desire to kill Rand or see the Tower destroyed. He comes upon a heavy door locked with an iron padlock, and giggles to himself as he picks it, thinking how he’s surrounded by Aes Sedai power and yet this room is secured with a simple lock.

He goes inside, noting the dusty shelves lined with boxes and figurines, but homes in on one box in particular, a thick lead-lined thing. Inside he finds the dagger with its ruby hilt and gold sheath, and quickly pulls it out.

He sighed as soon as he touched it, stretched languorously. He was whole again, one with what had bound him so long ago, one with what in a very real way had given him life.

Then the door creaks behind him and he leaps forward, slashing with the dagger before the young woman on the other side can leap away. He pulls her inside, making sure the hallway is otherwise empty, and then watches the girl, in her white Accepted dress, thrashing and dying on the floor, unable even to scream as her face and hands grow bloated and black. Suddenly, a voice behind him calls him a fool, and he turns around to stab again with the dagger. But the air around him seems to grow solid, holding him from the soles of his boots all the way up to his neck as Alviarin comes in, shutting the door calmly behind her.

“Did you really think,” the Aes Sedai went on, “that there would be no guard on this room, no watch kept? A ward was set on that lock. That young fool’s task tonight was to monitor it. Had she done as she was supposed to, you would find a dozen Warders and as many Aes Sedai outside this door now. She is paying the price of her stupidity.”

But Fain notes that Alviarin doesn’t even attempt to Heal the injured girl, and that she hasn’t raised the alarm either. He deduces that she is Black Ajah, and though Alviarin tells him that Elaida considers such talk a vile slander against the Tower, Fain is certain. She warns him about the dagger and its powers, and asks why he came to this place and went straight for something he can’t have known was there. In answer, Fain offers to kill Elaida for her and make Alviarin first in the Tower, but she only laughs at him, and tells him that Elaida can claim credit for what she calls successes and pay for her failures, and that Alviarin knows where true power lies. Then she demands again that he tell her what he is doing there, or there will be two corpses found in the morning instead of one.

There would be two in any case, whether he answered her with suitable lies or not; she did not mean to let him live. “I have seen Thakan’dar.” Saying that hurt; the memories it brought were agony. He refused to whimper, forced the words out. “The great sea of fog, rolling and crashing in silence against the black cliffs, the fires of the forges glowing red beneath, and lightning stabbing up into a sky fit to drive men mad.” He did not want to go on, but he made himself. “I have taken the path down to the belly of Shayol Ghul, down the long way with stones like fangs brushing my head, to the shore of a lake of fire and molten rock—” No, not again! “—that holds the Great Lord of the Dark in its endless depths. The heavens above Shayol Ghul are black at noon with his breath.”

Alviarin’s eyes widen; she is clearly impressed. She asks if one of the Chosen sent him, and why she was not informed. “Are the tasks given to the likes of me for the likes of you to be knowing?” Fain asks in response, and warns her that she must be careful, or the Chosen will give her to one of their Myrddraal for sport. Her eyes are icy, but she tells him she will clean up his mess, and then they shall see which of them stands higher in the eyes of the Chosen. It’s a full minute after she left before the air around Fain softens and lets him go.

Fain is furious at himself for letting his hatred of the Aes Sedai goad her about the Chosen, because now she will surely ask them about him. He decides that it’s better not to try to kill her before she can do so, and that there’s no time now to search for the Horn of Valere. He will have to leave the Tower, and return to the terrified followers waiting for him outside the city.

Before the sun rose he was out of the Tower, off the island of Tar Valon. Al’Thor was out there, somewhere. And he was whole again.

 

Liandrin is just one of those characters it’s fun to hate. Every time we’re back in her head we’re reminded of just how small and petty her ambitions are. I mean, she spends so much time in this chapter hating on the merchants she’s staying with, thinking about how weak and ridiculous their attempts to portray an elevated station are, but these people are actually a lot like her. She, too, was born a commoner and has striven all her life towards prestige and power, but where she sees her desires as something proper and due to her, she regards those of the merchants as neither, dismissing their ambitions as unwarranted and their attempts as pathetic failures.

It’s just like how she’s so derisive of wilders when she herself is a wilder by all definitions; I imagine her hatred of wilders comes from the same place as her hatred for the merchants. No doubt she quickly encountered prejudice against wilders when she went to the Tower. Rather than understanding that this prejudice was unfair and incorrect, she immediately rejected the identity, distancing herself from it so far that she created her own deep, abiding hatred of wilders. In that same way, she dreams of power and status because she suffered poverty and derision as a young girl, but rather than having empathy and compassion for those who suffer as she did, she despises them, telling herself she was never actually one of them, that she is inherently better and more important than “real” peasants and paupers. She has her ability with the One Power to help her in this belief, of course; clinging to it as a birthright rather than accident or luck, as it is for a wilder, reinforces the idea that she is separate and better than the class she was born into.

It’s a phenomenon you see in our world, too, especially in the U.S. It’s this kind of thinking that leads people who manage to lift themselves from poverty or difficult circumstances to reject the idea of increasing government aid to poor families or college students. It can lead to women or minorities who attain positions of power despite having the deck stacked against them to feel that anyone who wants to attain the same successes should have to face the same trials and hurdles, even though those hurdles are prejudicial and unjust. Of course Liandrin’s version is much more poisonous and malevolent—she actively wants to subdue everyone under her feet, rather than just thinking that if she has to work so hard, everyone should have to—but I think it comes from the same place. Suffering and hardship, especially when young, can affect the mind and perspective of people in a myriad of ways, and it makes me at once less and more sympathetic to Liandrin than if she were this haughty because she was born to wealth.

It’s also perfect thinking for a Darkfriend, of course. We now know that Liandrin dreamed of becoming Black Ajah from the beginning, even before she ever went to the White Tower. The service to the Dark One is often a lot of work, but in many ways it’s also a handy shortcut and doesn’t require more than the most begrudging of cooperation with your fellow Darkfriends. In this intensely hierarchical structure there is no sense of equality even among the highest ranking Darkfriends, even among the Forsaken themselves. Every single Darkfriend we’ve encountered so far has the same belief—that eventually, once Tarmon Gai’don is won, the ranks of the Darkfriends will be cleared of the chaff and the riff raff, and only they and a few others will remain to receive all the glory, power, and immortality their Dark Lord offers. Liandrin thinks this, Jaichim Carridin/Bors thinks this, and even the Forsaken all think this, right up to the point when Lanfear takes the whole thing to its ultimate conclusion in believing that she and Rand can eventually overthrow the Dark One himself.

I’ve talked before about how fear and distrust are a great weapon of the Dark, how it seeds mistrust amongst allies in the light, making them suspicious of each other, making them keep secrets that would be better shared with their allies. Although this is true, it doesn’t negate the fact that there is even less harmony within the ranks of the Darkfriends. I know that the reasoning behind each member of the Black Ajah only knowing one or two names of others is so that no woman, if caught, can reveal many of her fellows, but it also kind of seems like the rule is there to keep them all from murdering each other to get to the top. I mean, we’ve all seen how the Forsaken behave, at once more cautious and powerful but also more paranoid and deadly than modern Darkfriends.

And Liandrin doesn’t know as much as she thinks she does, either. Her derision over Amellia speaking directly to her cook was especially amusing to me; I suspect that she’s wrong to think that no noble would ever speak directly to their cook or consider them a friend. We know that there was respect between Laras and the Amyrlin Seat, after all, and Siuan was the most powerful woman in the world. Running a household is a time-consuming business, and there is a great amount of responsibility and trust put into those who run the kitchens of large manors, estates, and palaces. It makes sense that there could be a cordial, even friendly relationship there, even accounting for the deference due to nobility.

If there is one thing I do admire about Liandrin, though, it’s her tenacity. We’ve seen plenty of ambitious Darkfriends crumple when facing Myrddraal, or Padan Fain, or the Black Ajah for the first time. Liandrin is as horrified as anyone when she experiences the kind of pain Moghedien can give her and when she experiences the true force of Compulsion, but she doesn’t let that deter her one bit. Her very first thought upon being released is of wanting to learn how to do what Moghedien did. I have to admire that grit, even as I can see that she’s going to be her own downfall. I rather suspect that Moghedien’s second lesson is not going to be the same as a second chance, and it’s clear that Liandrin still has no understanding of how much more powerful and knowledgeable Moghedien is. She just can’t see the danger, because the shield of narcissism she’s built up won’t allow her to entertain the idea that she might not be able to achieve everything she wants, that she’s not necessarily as important as she wants to believe she is.

But then, who would swear their soul to the Dark One in hopes of immortality, knowing that the Forsaken still exist, unless they had a really inflated sense of their own importance and ability? Liandrin seems not to think very highly of the Forsaken in general; I found it quite interesting that the Black Ajah refer to them as the Forsaken, not the Chosen—the lack of respect is clear. Maybe this is just because they can’t conceive of what it really means to be a channeler from the Age of Legends, but I think it speaks to the arrogance and narcissism inherent in most Darkfriends that they consider themselves destined to be of the Dark One’s Chosen few, and believe, or at least hope, that they will eventually supplant the old guard in their Great Lord of the Dark’s favor.

But Liandrin’s initial observation of the stranger in the parlor, that she can’t be from the Tower because she doesn’t have the face of an Aes Sedai, finally brought to the forefront a question that has been niggling at the back of my mind for some time: Why don’t any of the Forsaken have the ageless look of a channeler? Are they using the One Power to keep people from seeing that part of their appearance and thereby deducing who they are? Or is there perhaps a difference in the way the Aes Sedai of the Age of Legends learned to channel that doesn’t result in the same physical effects? I mean, there could be any number of perfectly reasonable explanations, except… except that none of the other channelers in this world are described as having Aes Sedai faces, either.

The Ageless look doesn’t happen overnight. It seems to take at least several years of regular channeling before a woman begins to take on this effect in her appearance, yet none of the Wise Ones are ever described as having the look. Amys, for example, is described as having white hair but a young face. None of the damane are described as having the look, and neither is Jorin, the Windfinder Elayne befriended on the Wavedancer, who seemed to be quite experienced in channeling. So what is it that is different about the women from the White Tower? We know that the Wise Ones do not use the One Power in all the same ways as the Aes Sedai (Moiraine has complained about it), and Windfinders stick mostly to weather-related channeling, but I can’t think what’s different about the damane except for the fact that they are always wearing the a’dam. Perhaps this saps the look out of them, just as Siuan and Leane’s torture removed the ageless look from their faces all at once, instead of it fading gradually over time?

I had kind of forgotten about the ageless look, to be honest, and thought maybe Jordan had too, but having our attention drawn to it in this moment feels significant. I just can’t figure out exactly what it means. So… I guess I’ll move on.

I had figured out that Liandrin’s “special trick” was a form of Compulsion, and I admire the way Jordan seeded the concept early and gradually, so we were prepared for it when we encountered the much more powerful version of it that the Forsaken use. It sure is a handy trick; I wonder if the more powerful channelers also need to find the chink in people’s armor or if Liandrin only has to do that because she’s so much less powerful compared to them. I also wonder if any form of Compulsion is known to the Aes Sedai of the White Tower. It’s possible that it isn’t, but it’s also possible that it is. I imagine that this kind of violation would be discouraged by the modern Aes Sedai, forbidden even. For that matter, wouldn’t the Three Oaths make it impossible to use Compulsion, or at least impossible to use it except under very specific circumstances? Obviously Liandrin, as Darkfriend, is no longer bound by the Three Oaths, but a proper Aes Sedai can’t use the One Power as a weapon, which would include manipulating someone this way, I should think.

So it’s possible that Liandrin has always kept her “trick” a secret and had no knowledge of anyone else being able to do such a thing until she encountered Moghedien, but it’s also possible that she knows full well that others may technically be able to do something similar, and that it is forbidden or impossible under the Three Oaths. In the latter case, this is another specific example of the benefits the Black Ajah have over the rest of the Aes Sedai in being freed from the Oaths by their fealty to the Dark One.

But speaking of the Tower, let us move on to the revelation that I guessed was coming back in the Prologue, in which Fain cringed under Alviarin’s gaze and has the feeling that she knows too much about him. At the time I assumed it was because Alviarin was head of the Black Ajah and recognized Fain’s face, but it turns out she doesn’t know that he’s the hound who was set on Rand after all. She’s in awe when he tells her that he’s been to Shayol Ghul, too.

I mean, it seemed obvious that there would be more Black Ajah in the Tower than Liandrin and co., and probably ones in more important positions than Liandrin held. Someone with more power and a more level head than Liandrin would have to be the Head (heh) of the Black Ajah. Sheriam was my prime suspect for a while, based on the weird way she behaved about the dead graymen, but Alviarin makes a lot of sense, too. I’m reminded of how cool and calm Joiya was after she was captured by Egwene and the others; Alviarin’s even colder detachment could serve her well in hiding her true loyalties and deeds. She’s also been on the periphery of influence for quite a while: She traveled with Siuan to meet with Moiraine in Fal Dara and even helped with Egwene and Nynaeve’s initial training on the journey back to the White Tower.

Man, what must it be like to be Black Ajah and have Elaida come to you and just drop the whole Tower right in your lap? Alviarin seems to be in contact with at least one of the Forsaken, unless she was bluffing with Fain, and it makes sense that they would want to secure the obedience of the Head of the Black as soon as possible, given that the Tower is one of the greatest threats to the Forsaken’s success. She’s probably also controlling what information Elaida gets from the eyes-and-ears network, and perhaps even how Elaida’s orders are carried out.

Padan Fain is so much more interesting when he’s scheming and manipulating powerful people than when he’s terrorizing and torturing. I noticed that he never actually lied to Alviarin, never claimed that he was an actual agent of the Dark or that the Forsaken had sent him. He only spoke of seeing Thakan’dar and going down to Shayol Ghul, not what he did there. He let her believe that he was sent by the Forsaken merely by pointing out that the Chosen would not tell her everything. It worked, too, at least enough that she doesn’t kill him on the spot. Even in letting his hatred of Aes Sedai get in the way of his plotting, Fain is still very clever.

And now he has his dagger again. I shudder to think how that will change his strength, increasing his ability to corrupt people with his presence and other skills. And now that he is “whole” again, he’s not going to have anything to distract him from his quest to find and destroy Rand. So that’s… good. At least that removes some of the bad influence on Elaida?

I was intrigued by the description of Shayol Ghul, which is the most in-depth we’ve had so far. Jordan’s descriptions are always lovely and evocative, and the Mordeth part of Fain has quite a poetical flair for the dramatic, even when the memory causes him agony. It really was a clever trick to turn something like that, an experience that was very far from any kind of honor and prestige, into sounding like something that gave him authority, perhaps even over Alviarin. It also put me in mind a little of the descriptions of Gollum’s torture by Sauron, in which he at least revealed the location of the ring and the name Baggins, which led Dark Riders to pursue Frodo and his friends, just as Fain functioned as the Hound that lead the Myrddraal and Trollocs to the Two Rivers. Like Gollum, Fain occupies a unique place in the story of the battle between Dark and Light, important and yet separated, an agent of neither and yet shaped by both. It will be interesting to see where he ends up by the end of the series.

Next week we’ll go back and cover the bulk of Chapter 19, in which Morgase finally begins to throw off some of Gaebril’s control. It’s a doozy of a section, and I look forward to discussing it with you all. Until then, I wish you all a good week full of good food, and socially-distanced connection to those you love. Be well.

Sylas K Barrett enjoys a good villain now and then, and is impressed with the right tapestry being provided by Jordan these days.

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