Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: Aviendha’s Duty and Sammael’s Bees in Robert Jordan’s The Fires of Heaven (Part 15)

This week in Reading the Wheel of Time, it’s adventures with Draghkar and suspicious Maidens. I’m not sure I trust Melindhra as far as Mat could throw her, and Sammael—possibly several Forsaken—is up to something.

Also, what’s with all the comments about short guys? Short guys are great.

Chapter 22 opens with Mat in his tent, getting a massage from Melindhra. She remarks that he is well-muscled for a short man, prompting Mat into disgruntled musings about how he’s only short by Aiel standards and then into memories of when he was much taller. He shivers, thinking of the earliest of the memories planted in his mind, and Melindhra adds more wood to the fire before continuing her ministrations. Mat thinks about her possessiveness towards him, and how he supposes he’ll have to get married and have a house and family someday. He thinks of it as being “shackled to one spot for the rest of his life” and considers that no woman ever liked her husband having a drink or a gamble, either. He’s not sure why Melindhra has staked her claim—he can’t get any of the other Maidens to even look at him, even though he’s given jewelry to plenty.

Melindhra goes on to tell him that he was made for great things, and that he shouldn’t efface himself so by putting himself in the shadow of Rand al’Thor. She admits that there is some honor in serving the Car’a’carn, that you must stand in their shade in order to be near the mighty, though she also points out that Mat should be gaining scars in pursuit of his own glory, and asks if he got the one around his neck serving the Car’a’carn. But Mat is only half listening, more concerned with thoughts of being tied down by one woman. He asks her, not for the first time, if she’s ever heard of the Daughter of the Nine Moons. She assures him again that she has not.

Just then they hear the sound of birds calling, and recognize Rand’s wards. Melindhra throws on her shoufa and rushes out, wearing nothing else, as Mat struggles into his clothes. He pulls on the foxhead medallion and grabs his raven spear before rushing out after her. He’s met immediately by Trollocs, and he can see veiled Aiel struggling with them all around the tents. There are also men, who are shouting “Sammael and the Golden Bees!”

Mat fights, shouting about not being a hero and not wanting to be mixed up in any of this. But when the Trolloc he’s facing goes down he finds himself up against a Myrddraal. Mat knows that the only way to defeat a Myrddraal is with a swift, overwhelming attack, and he throws himself at the Fade and takes it down, sparks flying when his spear meets the Myrddraal’s sword.

As he looks around he can see that the attack is basically over now, and he takes time to clean his blade and to consider how ill-considered the night attack was. Melindhra appears, complimenting him over his defeat of the Fade and asking what he was shouting while he fought.

“Something I heard once,” he told her. “I liked the sound of it.” Carai an Caldazar! For the honor of the Red Eagle. The battle cry of Manetheren. Most of his memories were from Manetheren. Some of those he had had before the twisted doorway. Moiraine said it was the Old Blood coming out. Just as long as it did not come out of his veins.

He puts an arm around Melindhra’s naked waist, but he can’t stop wondering why anyone would launch such a hopeless assault, and about how no one ever attacks without a reason.

The birdcalls wake Rand immediately, and he rushes out into the cold in his socks, and sees the Aiel rushing off to places that might need defending, including the pass. Even the Maidens have gone “as if they knew he would have held them back if they waited.” Rand can see the two directions the attack is coming from, and that the locations make no sense. Then Aviendha emerges from their tent wrapped in a blanket, and Rand turns in time to see her get caught in a Draghkar’s crooning spell. He destroys it at once with a thin stream of balefire, and Aviendha shakes herself and turns, shooting out a thick stream of fire just past his head.

Forgetting saidin entirely, Rand throws himself to the ground and scrambles to his feet again, shouting at her for her “ingratitude” and that he doesn’t care if he violated some Aiel custom, he just saved her life. Aviendha interrupts that next time she’ll leave the great Car’a’carn to deal with matters by himself and ducks back into the tent. Only then does it occur to Rand to look behind him, where he finds the smoldering remains of a second Draghkar, no more than two paces from where he had been standing.

He kneels beside the tent flap and tries to apologize, but Aviendha isn’t interested and won’t confirm that she’s back in her blankets. Rand realizes he’ll be forced to stand outside with no coat or shoes, waiting until he can be sure she’s decently covered.

The Wise Ones come running up, as well as Egwene. Amys is relieved that there was only one Draghkar.

“There were two,” Rand told her. “I… destroyed the other.” Why should he be hesitant just because Moiraine had warned him against balefire? It was a weapon like any other. “If Aviendha had not killed this one, it might have gotten me.”

“The feel of her channeling drew us,” Egwene said, looking him up and down. At first he thought she was checking for injuries, but she paid special attention to his stockinged feet, then glanced at the tent, where a crack in the tent flap showed lamplight. “You’ve upset her again, haven’t you? She saved your life, and you… Men!” With a disgusted shake of her head, she brushed past him and into the tent. He heard faint voices, but could not make out what was being said.

Melaine leaves again, the other two betting on whether she will check on Dorindha or Bael first as they follow. Rand stands outside the tent until Lan and Moiraine come up. Rand observes that he thought Moiraine would have been there sooner, and she responds that she can’t hold his hand forever, and that eventually he must walk alone. She does seem embarrassed, but when he points out the Draghkar that Aviendha saved him from, Moiraine simply remarks that it’s good she was there, and he didn’t need her.

Rand can’t figure out why she and Lan didn’t come the moment they sensed the Draghkar, and briefly considers that he could compel her to tell him by catching her between her oath and her inability to lie, before deciding that he would not do that to someone who is trying to help him.

Rand points out that this is the same tactic the Forsaken tried to use at Cold Rocks Hold, and that it didn’t work then either. He would have thought they’d try something different. Moiraine cautions him against ever assuming the Forsaken’s plans are simple, then leaves to go back to her own tent as the Maidens return. They see the Draghkar corpse.

Taking a deep breath, Adelin held out one of her spears, horizontally, in front of him, rock-steady. The others did the same, one spear each. “We—I—failed,” Adelin said. “We should have been here when the Draghkar came. Instead we ran like children to dance the spears.”

The rest also offer Rand their spears, telling him to do whatever he wants with them and that they will not resist. Rand, annoyed by the appearance of ji’e’toh again, sends them back to guard his tent and stomps off to find Asmodean. He finds him sitting in the dark in his tent, and the former Forsaken immediately begins to make excuses as to why he didn’t come help until Rand tells him that it’s good he didn’t—if Rand felt a man out there wielding saidin he probably would have killed him before checking to see who it was.

Asmodean says that it is not like Sammael to throw men away, and that it could be another Forsaken trying to trick Rand into thinking that it’s Samael.

“It was him. He tried to bait me into attacking him once in the same way, at Serendahar.” Oh, Light! The thought drifted across the surface of the Void. I said “me.” He did not know where Serendahar had been, or anything but what he had said. The words had just come out.

After a long silence, Asmodean said quietly, “I never knew that.”

Rand tries to ignore a sudden memory of Sammael’s appearance, short and with a yellow beard. He remembers that Sammael had always wanted to be taller and had resented that the Power couldn’t make him so. He asks Asmodean why Sammael would try this pointless move—Asmodean has already told him that Sammael is unlikely to attack unless he is sure of victory. So why, Rand asks, is he sure that he’ll win if Rand goes after him now. They discuss it for a while, Asmodean holding to the opinion that it is one of the other Forsaken trying to trick Rand, and come to no conclusion.

Eventually Rand leaves and returns to his tent, receiving various forms of advice from the Maidens about handling women’s anger. Then they want to talk again about what they did, but Rand tells them to talk to the Wise Ones, who will understand better what they’re looking for. He goes into his tent and falls asleep, dreaming of Aviendha hurling fire at him and of Sammael sitting beside her, laughing.

As the Aiel emerge into Cairhien out of the Jangai Pass, Egwene watches as they all pause in amazement over the small stream they have to jump across. She also glances at Moiraine and Lan, riding next to the wagon carrying the doorframe ter’angreal. Egwene is curious as to Moiraine’s investment in this particular wagon, all of which are packed with artifacts from Rhuidean, but the one time she had asked Moiraine had answered that if Egwene’s imagination has so much time to roam, perhaps Moiraine should speak to the Wise Ones about intensifying her training. Egwene had apologized profusely.

The Maidens run past her, their white robed gai’shain (and the black-robed Isendre) leading the pack mules and struggling to keep up. Egwene notes that they are all carrying dolls under their arms, in addition to their weapons; she asks one of the Maidens about that and was told that the doll was to remind her that she is not a child, but Egwene doesn’t understand what that means. She’s frustrated that every time she thinks she understands Aiel culture, something comes along to prove to her that she really doesn’t.

Her attention turns back to the mouth of the pass and the message Couladin has left behind him in the town of Selean, men and women impaled across their path, the corpses now seven days old. There is no one left in the town—they are either dead, were carried off, or ran away. All the farm animals have been slaughtered or taken, and the fields burned.

Couladin and the Shaido were Aiel. But so were Aviendha, and Bair and Amys and Melaine, and Rhuarc, who said she reminded him of one of his daughters. They had been disgusted at the impalements, yet even they seemed to think it little more than the treekillers deserved. Perhaps the only way to truly know the Aiel was to be born Aiel.

She rides along the road until she catches up with Rand, where she joins Amys and Aviendha and thirty or more Wise Ones she doesn’t know, all following as Rand walks, leading his horse and talking with the clan chiefs. He is giving instructions to prevent the looting and despoiling of the land, to stop Couladin’s ransacking, not continue it. He tells them, sternly and raising his voice so all those around him can hear, that they will be allowed the fifth that custom dictates, but that no one is allowed to take any food, that they will live on what can be hunted for or bought until he can have more supplies brought in from Tear. He even says that he will hang any man who takes a penny more than the fifth, or any food at all, or who burns a hut or kills someone who is not trying to kill him.

Some of the Clan chiefs are not happy about this, and Egwene thinks that Rand is changing faster than she can keep up with. She climbs down from her horse to walk beside Aviendha.

“He truly is in command,” she said.

Aviendha barely shifted her eyes from Rand’s back. “I do not know him. I cannot know him. Look at the thing he carries.”

Egwene wonders why Rand would want a sword when he can make one out of fire, and reminds Aviendha that she gave Rand the sword,  that it is not really what Aviendha is mad about. She urges Aviendha to accept Rand’s apology for the other night, and Aviendha replies that she doesn’t want his apologies before exclaiming that she can’t take it anymore, and grabbing Egwene’s arm, begging her to speak to the Wise Ones and get them to let Aviendha return to their tents. She says they must listen to Egwene, who is Aes Sedai.

“Who must do what?” Sorilea said, dropping back from the others to walk alongside them. The Wise One of Shende Hold had thin white hair and a face like leather drawn tight over her skull. And clear green eyes that could knock a horse down at ten paces. That was the way she normally looked at anyone. When Sorilea was angry, other Wise Ones sat quietly and clan chiefs made excuses to leave.

Melaine and another Wise One start to join them until Sorilea turns those eyes on them. She tells Aviendha that in her day girls jumped when a Wise One told them to, and since she is still alive, it is still her day. She asks each of them in turn if they’re going to try to get Aviendha out of her duty, and each replies obediently. Then Sorilea asks about Aviendha getting an interest gift from the Car’a’carn of rubies and jewels, and Aviendha hastily explains about the sword.

Sorilea observes that it’s a pity Rand has not caught Aviendha’s eye, since it would bind him to the Aiel. She gives Aviendha a look over and decides that she will have her relative, Feran, look at her—Aviendha has other duties to the Aiel people, and “those hips were meant for babes.”

Aviendha stumbled over an upraised paving stone and just caught herself short of falling. “I… I will think on him, when there is time,” she said breathlessly. “I have much to learn yet, of being a Wise One; and Feran is Seia Doon, and the Black Eyes have vowed not to sleep beneath roof or tent until Couladin is dead.” Couladin was Seia Doon.

Sorilea seems satisfied with the response, and turns her talk to Rand, asking Egwene if he will really make good on his threats to hang someone, even a clan chief. Egwene is surprised when Sorilea doesn’t want Rand reasoned out of this threat.

“A chief must be harder than other men, young Aes Sedai, and the Car’a’carn harder than other chiefs. Every day a few more men, and even Maidens, are taken by the bleakness, but they are the soft outer bark of the ironwood. What remains is the hard inner core, and he must be hard to lead them.”

Egwene notes that Sorilea doesn’t include herself or the other Wise Ones in the ranks of those who must be led as Sorilea walks off, muttering to herself about mangy wolves, to talk with the other Wise Ones.

Aviendha and Egwene talk briefly about Feran, who is apparently beautiful but has a horrible laugh, and Aviendha assures Egwene that she was only trying to mollify Sorilea, and has no interest in the man. To change the subject, Egwene tells Aviendha that she will speak to the Wise Ones about Aviendha’s sleeping arrangements.

“No, Egwene. I must obey the Wise Ones. Ji’e’toh requires it.” Just as if she had not been asking for intercession a moment earlier. Just as if she had not all but begged the Wise Ones not to make her sleep in Rand’s tent. “But why is my duty to the people never what I wish? Why must it be what I would rather die before doing?”

Egwene assures her that no one, even Sorilea, can make Aviendha get married and have babies if she doesn’t want to. But Aviendha tells her that she doesn’t understand, and that she cannot explain it, leaving Egwene frustrated all over again.

 

My heart has been with Aviendha since we met her. She doesn’t always handle her emotions very well, but even when she’s being contradictory or lashing out, I find her struggle to accept her new life and the future that looms before her to be an incredibly compelling one. She is far from the only person in the series to be caught up in a fated destiny she doesn’t want and can’t control, of course, but Aviendha’s feels a little bit more personal and grounded than that of Rand, or even of Mat or Perrin or Moiraine, and I find that it engenders a little extra empathy and investment from me. After all, Aviendha isn’t just caught up by the tide of ta’veren power and the Dragon Reborn. She’s also being forced to completely change her relationship to her own people.

I’ve complained before that Aiel women aren’t allowed to be mothers and warriors, that they have to choose to give up one for the other. Now, however, we see Aviendha having that choice made for her. And not once, but twice—first she is forced to give up the spear and now she will perhaps be forced to have children. Aviendha is doing her best to follow her duty, to uphold ji’e’toh, a concept she truly believes in, but that belief has yet to offer her any solace or feelings of security. The life of a Wise One is hard on everybody, but we can see that ji’etoh, and the penance that comes when it is broken, can offer security and even absolution to some Aiel. When the Maidens are done carrying their dolls they will feel better, will have made up in some moral (or even spiritual?) way for their previous behavior, and will ostensibly be at peace with it. But so far, Aviendha has found no security in following her duty, even though she has stopped resisting it the way she did at first.

Maybe this will come with time, once Aviendha becomes a Wise One in her own right and has a little more power and authority. Or perhaps there is no solace left to be found in that, considering that Aviendha knows that the Aiel way of life will ultimately be broken, and that her destiny is to end up with Rand, which at least implies leaving the Aiel someday. And I think that her attempts at Aiel stoicism are hurting her more than helping her—she’s just bottling everything up until she can’t make herself do it anymore, and then exploding. This is what results in her saying and doing all those contradictory things that have been so frustrating to Egwene and especially to Rand.

I noticed an interesting contrast between Chapter 22, in which Mat frets about being tied down with a woman and a family, and Chapter 23 where Aviendha is told that her duty to her people isn’t just to give up the spear, it’s also to get married and have babies. I love Mat, but his complaint is a tired old trope about how marriage ruins men’s lives and how they’re only happy when they get to drink and carouse as much as they want. Aviendha’s, however, is a real and painful struggle for women that has long existed in our world and in Rand’s. The designs of the Wheel aside, there’s no reason Mat should have to choose a wife or settle down if he doesn’t want to. His culture encourages it but won’t demand it the way Aviendha’s does of her. Mat could go on to be an old campaigner if he wants to (I’m thinking of Gareth Bryne and his men) but Aviendha has no such options.

I appreciated the little detail about how Mat just likes to give presents to women and doesn’t mind if all he gets in return is a smile. It’s a little smarmy, maybe, but it’s nice that Mat doesn’t operate out of any expectation of being owed. He wants to be with a woman who genuinely wants “a kiss and a cuddle” as much as he does—something that shouldn’t need to be said but really does. I’m still concerned about Melindhra though. I’m trying not to be prejudiced just because she was Shaido, but I remember the conversation Rand had with the clan chiefs about the possibility of sending spies. Given how many of the other tenets of honor Couladin has given up, I could see him, and possibly some of his people, being willing to give up the tenet against spying on one’s own society in another sept. Mat’s cute and all, but her interest in someone who’s supposed to be so close to the Dragon Reborn feels a little suspicious all the same.

And then there’s all this talk about honor and glory. The Aiel are quite ambitious when it comes to personal honor, of course, and I suppose that if a Maiden were to consider giving up the spear for a man, she might be very invested in his honor and glory indeed. Still there’s something about the way that Melindhra describes Mat as “effacing” himself and putting himself in Rand’s shadow that sounds less like Aiel and more like Darkfriends. The way she prods and urges him in this chapter reminds me of the way Lanfear speaks to Rand, even. Maybe she just wants to be married to a chief, or maybe she’s experiencing her own version of the bleakness and wants to tie herself to someone who is not Aiel, but who is still influential and important. Or maybe, just maybe, she’s a Darkfriend. I think it’s a mistake to assume that the Aiel are the only culture immune to the call of the Shadow.

I guess I should be reiterating the same thing that Rand and Egwene are thinking throughout these chapters—I’ve learned a lot about how the Aiel think, but there is still lot I don’t understand. I’m not sure why Egwene is so confused about the Maidens and their dolls, though. She herself went through a lesson from the Wise Ones not too long ago, when she had to braid her hair like a little girl’s, in penance for behaving in a way the Wise Ones found childish. Amys even told her that if Egwene lied to her again, she would give her a doll to carry—surely Egwene can at least deduce that there is something similar going on, especially when Maira told her that it was to remind her that she is not a child.

I understand why the Maidens feel that they behaved irresponsibly, and perhaps they did, but I can’t help feeling that Rand is a little bit to blame for their slip-up. He has been keeping them from danger on purpose, and even acknowledges that they probably ran off because they knew he would stop them. They should not have abandoned their posts this time, but if they felt they were going to have their own proper share of battle and danger, they might not have been so reckless with this particular chance. I wonder if this is a lesson in leadership Rand will have to learn, in time.

I have to admit I laughed at the battle cry for Sammael. I mean, don’t get me wrong, bees are awesome, but there is just something really comical to me about a bunch of Darkfriends rushing into battle alongside Trollocs shouting “For the bees!” I’m not sure what the deal is with the bees, I guess they must have been part of Sammael’s coat of arms, back in the Age of Legends? Something like that.

As for Moiraine and the wagon, we know more about the doorframe than Egwene does, but I’m still not sure why Moiraine would feel the need to stay so close to it. Even if it’s one of the most valuable items she found, I can’t imagine that her need to protect it would demand she stay right by its side. I know the weakened seal is in one of those wagons too, so perhaps that’s what she’s staying close to? Or maybe there is some other reason. As for why she didn’t come straight to Rand’s side in the attack, I think there are a couple options. It may well be that she really did intend to leave Rand on his own for a bit, knowing as she does that she’ll be gone soon. It may also be that she went to protect the wagon and whichever item she is guarding. Or perhaps, since I’m pretty sure she must know about Asmodean, she thought the attack might be to spring him and went to check on that? There could be other reasons too that we don’t know about yet. She blushes when Rand asks about it, and I can’t help but think about the Maidens being chagrined that they weren’t where they should have been because they let their emotions rule them.

As far as what Sammael is up to, we have more information than Asmodean on this one, because we know that Lanfear, Rahvin, Sammael, and Graendal have been plotting to try something as a group. It does seem likely that these attacks are an attempt to draw Rand out, to encourage him to strike at Sammael and fall into a trap. Lanfear’s trap, ostensibly, since nothing she’s involved in would allow Rand to be killed by her fellow Forsaken. I don’t know if it will take a long time to find out the true purpose of the attack, but Rand and Mat’s instincts are both telling them that there is more to this than there seems to be, and that feels significant.

Join us next week for two more chapters, in which Egwene stumbles onto Elayne’s secret meeting with Birgitte, and the two have a secret meeting of their own, away from the Wise One’s careful oversight. Egwene goes to do some searching of her own, as well, and struggles with her own dreams in the process. Until then, stay safe, and drink some water! You probably need some.

And let’s be honest, I’d love to have the One Power make me grow taller. So I feel you, Sammy.

Sylas K Barrett would like to run into battle shouting about bees, but it would probably be more from an environmental angle than a Darkfriend thing. Bees are good. Don’t be coming for the bees.

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