Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: Snow, Sex, and the Seanchan in Robert Jordan’s The Fires of Heaven (Part 19)

Recapping, am I right? This week’s rather lengthy installment of Reading The Wheel of Time covers Chapter 30-32, which includes Aviendha choosing not to run anymore, Rand doing a lot of off-the-cuff channeling, sex, the Seanchan, and yet another reminder that Rand needs to be “hard” when it comes to being a leader, both with his allies and his enemies.

Oh, and we also have perhaps the greatest romance trope of all time, the old “we have to share body heat or we’ll die.” I mean, the fanfic basically writes itself, doesn’t it? It’s kind of fun to see that in some ways, R.J. was just like the rest of us.

Chapter 30 opens in Eianrod, where Rand is stealing a moment alone, sitting on a bridge and watching the river below. The river is low, but he finds watching the water incredibly soothing after being in the Waste for so long. He’s also hiding from Moiraine, who has been trying to steal every moment she can with him.

She had even taken to bringing his meals to him and talking while he ate, as if she meant to cram everything she knew into his head before they reached the city of Cairhien. He could not face her begging to remain—actually begging!—as she had the previous night. For a woman like Moiraine, that behavior was so unnatural that he had wanted to agree simply to stop it. Which was very likely why she had done it. Much better an hour listening to the quiet liquid ripplings of the river. With luck, she would have given up on him for tonight.

Rand considers the low river and the dry, dusty town and wonders if he could make it rain here as he did in Rhuidean, as well as if he would be able to control it enough this time not to make a terrible storm. Asmodean has no interest in the weather and so hasn’t been able to teach him anything about it, and Rand considers how the Forsaken had once seemed omnipotent and all-powerful to him, but his time with Asmodean has shown him that at least some of them have weaknesses and areas of ignorance; in fact, it might be that in some areas he knows more than some of them, if only he could figure out which ones. He shivers as he realizes that he knows that Semirhage is also bad at weather. That isn’t something Asmodean told him.

Sulin, who is in command of his body guard for the night, comes to join him, and mentions that they were all gambling when suddenly everyone was throwing nothing but sixes. Rand apologizes without thinking, but of course the Aiel don’t know that his ta’veren powers can affect things around him, often in odd and random ways. He thinks about how even the Aiel would never stay near him if they did. There have been other incidents too, like when three Stone Dogs were suddenly dropped into a viper pit and yet none were bitten, or the saddlemaker Tal Nethin tripping on a stone and somehow breaking his neck. On the other hand, however, Bael and Jheran have resolved the blood feud between the Shaarad and Goshien, although neither man seems to understand exactly how they ended up deciding to make the pledges and water oaths together.

He had wondered if those random effects would ever work in his favor; maybe this was as close as it came. What else had happened today that might be laid at his feet, he did not know; he never asked, and would as soon not hear. The Baels and Jherans could only partly make up for the Tal Nethins.

He asks where Adelin and Enaila are, having not seen them in days, and Sulin informs him that they will come back when “they learn to stop playing with dolls.” Rand has no idea what that means, but Sulin seems pleased when he instructs her to tell them that they are grown women and should act like it. They are discussing the fact that Rand needs to eat when they are suddenly interrupted by a group of Aiel escorting a party of about twenty horsemen, mostly Tairen but also a few Cairhienin. When the two Tairen officers see Rand they exchange startled looks and scramble down to kneel before him, asking incredulously if Rand has also been taken prisoner by the Aiel, that they were supposed to be taken to some Dawn fellow, the Car’a’carn.

“I am He Who Comes With the Dawn,” Rand told them quietly. “And the Car’a’carn.” He had them placed now: young lords who had spent their time drinking, gambling and chasing women when he was in the Stone. Estean’s eyes nearly popped out of his face; Edorion looked as surprised for a moment, then nodded slowly, as if he suddenly saw how it made sense.

Rand has them present their Cairhienin companions, and Edorion calls the two officers, Meresin and Daricain over, and in his head Rand likens it to a man calling his dogs. Rand explains that he did not send the Aiel to attack Cairhien, and that they are his enemies. He also has to get through instructing Meresin and Daricain to rise after the kneel to him; Rand had almost forgotten about all the kneeling and bowing after his time spent among the Aiel. He’s surprised to learn that they are both lords as well as soldiers.

They discuss how long Cairhien can hold out against the Shaido, the Cairhienin lords hesitantly addressing him as “my lord Dragon” and saying that it is doomed unless help comes soon. Estean explains that this is why they came out from the city, in order to find help.

He shivered despite the sweat on his brow, and his voice turned distant and hollow. “There were more of us when we started. I saw Baran go down, screaming with a spear through his guts. He’ll never turn a card at chop again. I could use a mug of strong brandy.”

Edorion cautiously broaches the concern that Rand’s party of Aiel won’t be able to reach Cairhien in time, while Estean continues to go on about the Couladin’s treatment of prisoners, the way the city was almost burned down, and how he really wants a glass of brandy.

“How long?” Rand asked Rhuarc.

“Seven days” was the reply. Mangin nodded, and Estean laughed.

Rand explains that the question isn’t how fast the Aiel can travel, but how fast Estean’s party can. He wants to send word to Meilan and Cairhien that help is coming, but it needs to be someone who won’t tell the Shaido anything if he is caught.

Meresin and Daricain were on their knees together, each seizing one of Rand’s hands to kiss. He let them, with as much patience as he could find; one bit of Moiraine’s advice that had the ring of common sense was not to offend people’s customs, however strange or even repulsive, unless you absolutely had to, and even then think twice.

The men thank him profusely, saying that they will take the news and pledging themselves as Rand’s men. Edorion offers to make a bet with Rand of a thousand gold crowns, on whether they can actually make it to the city in seven days. Rand, baffled, starts to tell them that he doesn’t have that kind of money when Sulin breaks in and informs Edorion that Rand does have the money, and will meet the wager.

Edorion laughed. “Done, Aiel. And worth every copper if I lose. Come to think, I’ll not live to collect if I win. Come, Meresin, Daricain.” It sounded as if he were summoning dogs to heel. “We ride.”

The men depart, and Rand demands to know what Sulin is talking about, since he’s definitely never seen a thousand gold crowns in his life. The Maidens, Rhuarc, and Mangin all give him perplexed looks and Sulin explains that, since he is their battle leader and their chief, one tenth of every fifth the Aiel take belongs to him—the fifth they took at the Stone as well as that in Cairhien, and since Tear submitted to him as their chief, he gets a tenth there as well.

Rand has called the Aiel’s fifth from Cairhien a tax, though the word confuses them, and he reflects now that although it isn’t really a tax, his tenth could be used the same way taxes are. If only he knew what taxes were used for. He finds himself wishing Elayne were there, but as it is he will have to ask Moiraine. He wishes he could get Elayne to explain the two letters. He also finds himself thinking of Min, who had laughed at him but never made him feel like he was speaking another language. But of course, if she saw him now she would run away from the Dragon Reborn.

Rhuarc suggests sending their own scouts as well, and Rand suggests the Thunder Walkers, even though he can feel the Maidens’ eyes on him. He knows some of the scouts will be killed, so he ignores them. Mangin and Rhuarc take Estean away to question him, after Rand insists that they only ask. Sulin, her voice flat, tells him that he tends his people well, but Rand refuses to rise to the bait, only answering “I try” and that he is going to go get something to eat and then to sleep.

He heads through the burned streets, remembering the way Lan had tracked the movement of battles between contendants for the Sun Throne, and noting how the last to hold the town were clearly bandits. They come to the merchant’s house he has claimed as his, declaring it the “Roof of the Winespring brothers” and that no one could enter unless they have drunk from the Winespring in Emond’s Field. He hadn’t been sure it would work, but the Maidens have respected the boundary and not entered.

Inside the place is empty aside from some gai’shain who have spread their blankets in the entry hall; keeping them out is as impossible as keeping out Moiraine. He is more interested in his bed than the gai’shain, looking forward to the real feather mattress they have found for him, but when he pushes open the door to his room he finds Aviendha inside, naked in front of the washstand with a bar of soap. She appears as flummoxed as he, stammering that she can’t make a sweat tent in the town and thought she might try his way, that she thought he would take longer at the bridge, and finally that she did not arrange for him to see her. Her voice rises in panic as she insists that she must get as far away from him as she can.

Suddenly a shimmering vertical line appeared in the air near her. It widened, as if rotating, into a gateway. Icy wind rushed through it into the room, carrying thick curtains of snow.

“I must get away!” she wailed, and darted through into the blizzard.

The gateway begins to close at once, but Rand instinctively channels and blocks it open. He doesn’t know how he does it, but he recognizes that this is a gateway for Traveling, which Asmodean has told him about but has been unable to teach him to do. He can see that Aviendha has just run naked into the heart of a winter storm, so he wastes no time thinking, just ties off the flows of saidin and gathers up her clothes as well as all the blankets and rugs and plunges through after her.

Wrapped in the Void he can still feel himself shivering, and he’s only able to spot Aviendha darting through the trees because of his sharpened sight. He calls after her, chases her, but she only seems to run faster at the sound of his voice. He follows, stumbling through snowbanks and into trees, trying to come up with a way to use channeling to help him, knowing that if he loses sight of her he’ll never find her again.

Melting a path with fire would just make mud, but suddenly Rand has the idea to heat the ground itself, and the snow before him melts. He can feel the heat through his boots, his feet flinching away from the heat even as the rest of him shivers. And he starts catching up to Aviendha.

Suddenly she vanishes as if she had fallen into a hole. Rand keeps his eyes on the spot and he suddenly finds himself splashing into icy water, and realizes that Aviendha ran out onto the ice and fell through. He leaves the blankets and rugs on the saidin-warmed bank and crawls out onto the ice, finds the hole where she fell through, and manages to grab her hair. He pulls her out, aware that he’s going to succumb to the cold soon and cursing at himself to keep his body moving as he hauls her out and drags her back to the warmed bank. But even wrapping her in blankets isn’t enough to warm her, and she isn’t moving. He can feel, outside the Void, that his hands and feet are numb and he’s no longer shivering; he knows that his body is shutting down.

He could feel the weave he had used to block open her gateway, a mile or perhaps two away through the storm. If he tried to carry her that far, neither of them would survive. They needed shelter, and they needed it here.

Rand channels Air, using it to pack the snow into walls and a roof, then carries her in, blocking up the doorway after them. He weaves and ties off a flame to give light in one corner, and also heats the air, though he doesn’t dare tie that weave off lest he fall asleep and accidentally melt his little snow hut.

He lays Aviendha down, noting the sandy ground and the unfamiliar scrub, but even in the warmth of the shelter she is icy cold. He knows she needs more warmth, but he can’t heat the air anymore so he decides to share body heat, stripping out of his wet clothes and wrapping himself in the blankets with her. He tries not to think about how smooth her skin feels, or what this position would be like if she was merely sleeping in his arms. To distract himself he tries to talk about other things, but Elayne is the first thing to come to mind, and thinking about kissing her isn’t helping. He tries Min next, insisting to himself he has never thought of her that way, but thinking of her doesn’t help either. He tries to talk about his plans for Cairhien, his hopes to bring an end to the war and famine and to unite the nations behind him.

But that had its own life, too, its own inevitable path, to Shayol Ghul, where he must face the Dark One and die, if the Prophecies were true. It seemed cowardly to say that he hoped he might live through that somehow. Aiel did not know cowardice; the worst of them was brave as a lion. “The Breaking of the World killed the weak,” he had heard Bael say, “and the Three-fold Land killed the cowards.”

He circles around to where they might be, and then to apologizing for walking in on her, how he knows that she doesn’t want to be around him and that he promises to send her away, to use his leverage as Car’a’carn to ensure that the Wise Ones don’t make her stay by him anymore. He upbraids her for her actions, too, and asks if she knows how much he will miss hearing her breathe at night. Suddenly he realizes that she’s very warm now, and then her eyes open and she looks up at him. He tries to move away but she grabs him by the hair.

“I promised my near-sister to watch you.” She seemed to be speaking to herself as much as to him, in a low, almost expressionless voice. “I ran from you as hard as I could, to shield my honor. And you followed me even here. The rings do not lie, and I can run no more.” Her tone firmed decisively. “I will run no more.”

She kisses him, and Rand loses his hold on the Void and saidin, and on rational thought in general.

Some hours later he is lying in the blankets watching Aviendha examine the walls of their shelter. She asks what it is, and is truly amazed as he explains what snow is. As she starts to dress he tells her that they can have the Wise Ones marry them as soon as they get back, and Aviendha gives him a flat look and replies that a man has no right to ask her that, and that anyway, he belongs to Elayne. Rand insists that they have to, after what they did, but of course that he wants to, as well.

They talk in circles for a while about the various customs of the Two Rivers, Aviendha clearly indicating that they can’t marry because they haven’t followed Two Rivers custom by asking permission from their family, and that by Aiel customs only she can ask him, and she isn’t going to. Rand insists that, since he started it permission doesn’t matter, they have to marry, but Aviendha only has a disdainful sniff for the notion that he started anything.

“It does not matter anyway, since we are going by Aiel customs. This will not happen again, Rand al’Thor.” He was surprised—and pleased—to hear regret in her voice. “You belong to the near-sister of my near-sister. I have toh to Elayne, now, but that is none of your concern.”

Aviendha suggests that Rand get moving, then suddenly realizes that she doesn’t know if she can remember how she made the hole, and he explains how he blocked the gateway open. He realizes that she intends to watch him get dressed, and reluctantly gets up to do so.

Rand cuts a hole in the wall with a thin flow of Fire, surprised to see daylight on the other side. He really has to put his back into pushing the block out, and ends up halfway outside of the shelter—which is a good thing because as he looks up he sees the huge leathery shape of some flying lizard high above, with two people riding on its back. He can tell they are searching for something, and that they would have seen him if they hadn’t been directly overhead. He ducks back into the shelter to warn Aviendha and to tell her that they are going to sneak back to the gateway, as carefully as they can. Outside they can see an ocean off to the east, confirming beyond a doubt that they’re very far from any lands they know. Aviendha is awestruck by the sight of the breakers.

It’s slow going back towards the gateway, and at one point Aviendha’s skirts are hampering her so much that Rand picks her up and carries her, which she endures a bit sullenly. He doesn’t dare melt them a path for fear of being spotted, and does his best to move from tree to tree, hoping that his tracks might pass for that of a large animal. Then, when he’s less than fifty paces from where he can feel his weave holding the gateway open, he sees a party waiting before the gateway.

And then Rand knows where they are; he recognizes the insect-like styling of the armor and the women wearing bracelets and leashes that lead to the collars of other women in gray. Seanchan. He set Aviendha down and gestures to the group.

“The two women on leashes can channel,” he whispered. “Can you block them?” Hurriedly he added, “Don’t embrace the Source yet. They’re prisoners, but they still might warn the others, and even if they don’t, the women with the bracelets might be able to feel them sense you.”

Aviendha gives him an odd look but doesn’t waste time asking how he knows, informing him instead that the women with the bracelets can also channel, though it feels strangely weak, as though they had never practiced. Rand asks if she can shield all four.

She gave him a very smug look. “Of course. Egwene taught me to handle several flows at once. I can block them, tie those off, and wrap them up in flows of Air before they know what is happening.” That self-satisfied little smile faded. “I am fast enough to handle them, and their horses, but that leaves the rest to you until I can bring help. If any get away… They can surely cast those spears this far, and if one of them pins you to the ground…” For a moment she muttered under her breath, as if angry that she could not complete a sentence. Finally she looked at him, her gaze as furious as he had ever seen it. “Egwene has told me of Healing, but she knows little, and I less.”

Rand cannot understand why she is angry but he tells her to handle the women and leave the rest to him, and they channel together, Aviendha shielding the women while Rand wraps the whole party—sul’dam, damane and soldiers—in a flow of Air, immobilizing them.

The Seanchan cry out and then fall silent as Rand and Aviendha approach. He holds the weave rather than tying it off, so that they will be freed when he steps through the gateway, but when he approaches the gateway he finds that it no longer looks into his room, but instead shows a gray blank. Worse, the grayness is woven with saidin. He can’t tell what the weave is supposed to do, but it might easily be a trap laid by Asmodean.

One of the mounted women, a black raven in front of a stark tower on the gray breast of her cloak, had a severe face and dark eyes that seemed to want to drill into his skull. Another, younger and paler and shorter, yet more regal, wore a silver stag’s head on her green cloak. The little fingers of her riding gloves were too long. Rand knew from the shaven sides of her scalp that those long fingers covered nails grown long and no doubt lacquered, both signs of Seanchan nobility. The soldiers were stiff-faced and stiff-backed, but the officer’s blue eyes glittered behind the jaws of the insectlike helmet, and his gauntleted fingers writhed as he struggled futilely to reach his sword.

Rand doesn’t care about them, but he doesn’t want to leave the damane prisoners so he puts a hand to one collar to see if he can unlatch it. He feels a jolt that almost numbs his arm and saidin rages through him as the damane convulses and screams while her sul’dam gasps and goes white.

Rand tells Aviendha to try, figuring that a woman must be able to touch the collar safely, and Aviendha fumbles with it while the damane cries out that Aviendha is marath’damane and begs for her mistress to save her. But her sul’dam is more interested in Rand, informing the noblewoman, Lady Morsa, that “it is he.” Morsa doesn’t look surprised, only horrified.

He asks her if she was at Falme, and she confirms that she saw him and what he did. Rand tells her that if they give him no trouble he will leave them in peace, all the while internally debating who should go through the gateway first. He decides the only choice is to step through together.

The woman with the raven cloak observes that much of what happened “in the lands of the great Hawkwing” has been kept secret and that rumors claim that “the Ever Victorious Army” was defeated.

“Do you now seek truth in rumor, Jalindin?” Morsa asked in a cutting tone. “A Seeker above all should know when to keep silent. The Empress herself has forbidden speech of the Corenne until she calls it again. If you—or I—speak so much as the name of the city where that expedition landed, our tongues will be removed. Perhaps you would enjoy being tongueless, in the Tower of Ravens? Not even the Listeners would hear you scream for mercy, or pay heed.”

Rand doesn’t understand most of what they’re talking about, but he recognizes the word Corenne, and realizes that the Return has been called off, at least for a while. But he can also see that the gateway is getting narrower, and urges Aviendha to hurry. She snaps that she is trying, that he nearly killed the two and maybe himself, as she could feel the power rushing into them. She assures him that if it can be done, she will do it.

Morsa appears to be listening carefully to them, but Jalindin is still focused on the noblewoman, again repeating that much has been kept secret, and that the Seekers must know all. Morsa, clearly tense, tells her that she is forgetting herself, but Jalindin replies that it is Morsa who forgets herself. Jalindin has put both a daughter and a son of the Empress to the question, and asks if Morsa thinks herself above the family of the Empress. Morsa hurriedly claims that she only meant that the Empress already knows more than she can tell and that she didn’t mean anything by her words, but Jalindin is already speaking to the soldiers, informing them that Morsa, as well as the sul’dam and damane, are in the custody of the Seekers for Truth.

Horror painted the faces of the named women, but Morsa could have stood for any of them. Eyes wide and suddenly haggard, she slumped as much as her invisible bonds would allow, voicing not a word of protest. She looked as if she wanted to scream, yet she—accepted. Jalindin’s gaze turned to Rand.

She tells him that he will be well treated if he surrenders to her, that they will certainly be caught in the wide search for the marath’damane who channeled in the night, and that in Seanchan he can find great honor in the use of his power. Rand laughs and tells her that he can’t kill her but that he should stripe her hide for the lie; he knows that men who can wield the Power are shot on sight in Seanchan.

Meanwhile, the gateway is still closing, and Rand tells Aviendha to stop trying to break the collar. He puts an arm around her shoulders, telling himself it’s only because they have to be close to fit, and warns her to be ready for anything. They jump… and land in his room in Eianrod. Asmodean is there, not embracing saidin, but Rand puts a block between him and the Source anyway. When he turns to look, he finds that the gateway is still there, but that it’s invisible on this side. He slashes through his weave just as a spear shoots through the closing gateway, cutting the end of the shaft off at two feet of length. Rand snatches the rest with Air.

He observes that they’re lucky none of the damane recovered in time, and Aviendha tells him sternly that she did not release them, and that he must learn to be hard with his enemies, not soft. Rand supposes that she is right, and that he has left behind enemies he might have to face one day.

Aviendha tells him that it was smart of him, hiding the hole she made, lest one of the gai’shain had found it and the maidens marched through after them. Asmodean tells them that one did come in, and that he “took the liberty” of telling her that Rand and Aviendha didn’t wish to be disturbed. To his surprise, she laughed and ran off, and a few minutes later about twenty Maidens were outside, beating their spears on their bucklers for the next hour.

Rand is embarrassed that, even though their encounter had happened on the other side of the world, the Maidens still new, but Aviendha questions Asmodean about the gai’shain’s appearance and decides, furious, that it must have been her first sister, Niella, a weaver who was taken gai’shain by the Chareen Maidens. Niella always wanted Aviendha to give up the spear and get married.

Rand tells her that he wants to talk to Natael and if she would mind making her bed somewhere else for the rest of the night. Aviendha goes, slamming the door behind her, and Rand wonders if she could be mad at him, given that she was the one who said nothing else was going to happen between them. Either way, he’s glad he isn’t Niella. Still holding the spear, he turns to Asmodean, who remarks that it is a strange scepter.

“It will do for one.” To remind him that the Seanchan were still out there. For once he wished his voice was even colder than the Void and saidin made it. He had to be hard. “Before I decide whether to skewer you with it like a lamb, why did you never mention this trick of making something invisible? If I hadn’t been able to see the flows, I’d never have known the gateway was still there.”

Asmodean is clearly alarmed, babbling, even getting to his knees as he explains that Rand never asked, that it’s just a trick of bending light, and that he used the same trick to sneak past the Maidens, but he must realize by now that Asmodean has thrown his lot in with Rand, that he is his man. The last bit gets through to Rand, reminding him of the Cairhienin, who also swore that they were “his men.”

He tells Asmodean that, from now on, he will tell Rand two things that he has not yet asked about, every lesson. Sitting down on the bed he thinks again about how the spear is a good reminder, and what could have happened if Aviendha had not been there to shield the damane.

“You have tried showing me how to shield a woman and failed. Try showing me how to avoid flows I cannot see, how to counter them.” Once Lanfear had sliced his weavings as neatly as with a knife.

Asmodean answers that it won’t be easy without a woman to practice against. Rand tells him to try, and that he has two hours.


In some ways, Chapter 30 feels a little slow compared with 31 and 32, but it actually contains a lot of really important character moments. There are a lot of little moments when Rand reflects on Elayne (I loved the bit when he wishes he could ask her what taxes are for) and on Min (showing that Min isn’t the only one feeling a pull that doesn’t quite make sense) as well as moments of Rand just being himself, getting away from being the Dragon Reborn for a few stolen moments. His time in the snow with Aviendha is fraught both by their possible deaths and by the danger of being caught by the Seanchan, but it’s really nice to see him get to be just a man for a few hours.

This is also the first time in a while we’ve seen mention of Rand’s ta’veren nature causing seemingly random events to happen; I can’t actually remember it coming up since he reached the Stone. And we see that Rand sometimes controls chance the way that Mat does, which is interesting as well.

I still have a lot of questions about how the ta’veren effect works, and it was kind of fun seeing that Rand and I are in the same boat. He wonders if these “random” effects will ever work in his favor; I myself have been questioning whether the effects are random at all, or if they all serve some purpose in the Pattern that the characters, and the reader, cannot see. Now, given the timing, I have a new theory. Perhaps Rand’s strong ta’veren power exists to allow him to enact monumental change in important moments (like the taking of the Stone and the bending of Tear to his will) and when it isn’t being used it’s just floundering around aimlessly and occasionally resulting in Indiana Jones-style misadventures into pits full of snakes. I kind of love that Randland has this ridiculous detail (pit vipers in our world/Age being named for the pits in their heads, not for where they live, of course).

I also have a lot of feelings about Rand’s desire to make it rain in Eianrod. Much of The Fires of Heaven is focused on the people around him either thinking he needs to learn to be tougher and harder or worrying that he’s turned into some kind of cruel, arrogant monster. In moments like this, however, we see what makes Rand a special person: He so desperately wants to help people, to use his Power to protect and heal. There is a truly lovely gentleness to Rand that people don’t often see. Egwene claims that he’s changed, Nynaeve remembers him as being a gentle boy, but what they don’t realize is that that trait is still there, still very much a part of him. But there’s so much else, and this constant call to be “hard”, while perhaps necessary, isn’t helping in that respect. Maybe Rand’s increased intimacy with Aviendha will help him finally open up and let someone else see that part of him—but who am I kidding, that is definitely wishful thinking. The two may have hit a milestone in their relationship, but they’re still pretty far away from being emotionally vulnerable with each other.

Speaking of being vulnerable, my heart broke as much as Rand’s, maybe more, at the idea of Moiraine literally begging to be allowed to stay. I wonder if whatever fate she saw in the Rhuidean arch is getting closer now, if she knows exactly when it will come and is counting down the days. Or is it just the certainty that drives her, the way it has been driving Aviendha? The rings don’t lie, Aviendha says, before she gives in and kisses Rand. But there is still room for interpretation, I think, and room to misinterpret. Just as Rand believes that the prophecies foretell his death, while it’s possible that they only speak of an injury, or mean something even more poetic by “the Dragon’s blood stains the rock of Shayol Ghul.” After all, “blood” means lineage in other lines.

Not that I can imagine any interpretation that sounds like much fun for Rand.

But Aviendha is also making a mistake here, though it’s quite understandable why she is. We the readers know from Min’s vision that Aviendha, Elayne, and Min are all destined to share Rand somehow, which one assumes means that they will eventually come to some kind of mutually agreeable arrangement. Aviendha has apparently seen that she is fated to be with Rand, but not that Elayne (or Min) would be involved. I had put her reluctance towards him down to the fact that she had to give up the spear, and a relationship with Rand was one more step away from the person she used to be. But the fact that it’s about Elayne makes perfect sense; since Aviendha has agreed to look after Rand for her, she feels that being with Rand herself violates her honor. The Aiel are all about that ji’e’toh.

But I am still confused about whether Aviendha saw herself entering into a relationship with Rand, or if it’s just the one sexual encounter that was predicted in the rings. Because her insistence that it won’t happen again means something very different if she truly thinks the whole ordeal is over, rather than if she is still resisting the destiny the rings showed her. And for that matter, her abject panic at his finding her naked seems a bit extreme if the only thing she was running from was a single fated encounter. Granted, the Aiel honor code is a bit hard to follow, and often quite extreme, so I may simply not be understanding how it really feels to be in her position.

I can’t decide if Aviendha and Rand’s constant misunderstanding of each other is cute or annoying. Maybe both. I was kind of mad at him when he misinterpreted her fear for him as anger—like the man doesn’t know about protective instincts and fear for the ones he loves—but I was annoyed with her when she went on about him noticing Morsa’s body so I guess they’re both just a little foolish in their love, and in their individual fears and foibles. And on the other hand, the hurt and confusion Rand experiences when he believes that Aviendha just despises him is really moving. Although I wish he could read between the lines a bit better, he’s pretty primed already to believe that everyone just wants to get as far away from him as possible, being a male channeler, and the Dragon, and the man prophesied to Break the world again. Plenty of people do feel that way.

And as much as Aviendha is insisting that nothing like this encounter will ever happen again, and as much as Rand is sure that nothing about their relationship will get any easier or less confusing, you can see changes in how Aviendha regards him—or at the very least changes in how much of that regard she allows Rand to see. He notes it only as less arguing, but to me it reads more like trust, confidence in Rand’s decisions and his capability. The way she looks to him when she realizes that she doesn’t know how to make “the hole” back to Eianrod shows a strong confidence in him that may come from his being He Who Comes With the Dawn or from her love for him, or perhaps both, but she seems less afraid to show that confidence somehow. She even lets him carry her—although I’m skeptical that skirts are that much more of a hamper to moving through snow than carrying another person. And Aviendha is strong and muscular, not a light burden.

Rand recognizes the Gateway Aviendha makes from Asmodean’s description of one, but didn’t he make one himself to follow Asmodean to Rhuidean at the end of The Shadow Rising? I guess that the two doorways did work differently—Aviendha’s goes straight to another location, whereas the one Rand and Asmodean used entered into a black space that they had to travel through. I can’t help but wonder what that black space was. Was it like the backstage of the world? The space between quantum particles? Some kind of tunnel, like the Ways? And for that matter, why did Asmodean make that kind of gateway when this one seems so much faster and more expedient? One assumes that he can’t for some reason. Maybe he’s not powerful enough.

At the beginning of Chapter 30, Rand observes that he had once believed that the Forsaken were basically all-powerful and omnipotent, but now he is learning (and remembering) that they aren’t. Asmodean himself does not seem to be as strongly powered as many of his fellows, and it may be that he’s only averagely powerful by the standards of his own day. Or maybe just averagely educated—he seems to be more concerned with being a great bard than a powerful channeler, or ruler. Most of the other Forsaken seem to want to be kings and queens, but it’s kind of hard to imagine Asmodean caring about affairs of state or whatever.

(I mean, maybe there won’t be affairs of state once the Dark One is in charge, but if the majority of the Forsaken believe that they will be immortal rulers one day, they must also believe that there will be some semblance of society left to rule over.)

It’s odd to think that some of the most important Darkfriends of the Age of Legends might not have also been some of the most powerful, but there may have been other ways, other reasons, that they were able to maneuver themselves to such high-ranking roles. Wealth, nobility, prestige and connection might have been important, as well as being continually successful in their assignments from their Great Lord. Or perhaps, like Moghedien, talent in a specific area gave them an edge. After all, we’ve seen that Nynaeve and Moghedien were equally matched in their battle, which means that Nynaeve’s raw power must be much greater than that of Moghedien, who had the advantage of age, training, and experience.

The whole rescuing Aviendha from the frozen lake didn’t do much for me, just because stories about people falling in ice are so common in fiction, especially television and film. But what I really enjoyed about the segment was watching Rand use saidin in a bunch of different ways; usually when we’re in his head about channeling it is during one specific, large event, and usually what he does is based in instinct. This time, however, we see him thinking through the various skills he has been trained in by Asmodean as well as developing a few techniques on the fly. The heating of the ground was a particularly fun move, and I loved the description of Rand building the snow fort around them, using Air to push the snow against the wind and into walls. It’s not his fault I was thinking of Frozen the whole time—Rand’s ice palace came first.

It’s not mentioned, but I assume he thought to put in air holes at some point, or he and Aviendha would not have had time to get warm anyway. I only think of it because I remember that Rand doesn’t know that air gets thinner the higher you go, so I have to wonder if he knows about things like using up oxygen. Does he know what oxygen is at this point? Ostensibly this is a thing that Asmodean knows and could teach him. But Rand would have had to ask.

I actually… felt a little bad for Asmodean here? My bigger concern is for Rand, of course; I’m worried that he’s been pushed too far in the direction of being hard, cold, and calculating. Of course he needs to not let his personal feelings get in the way of his judgment, but feelings and emotions exist for a reason, and the suggestion that reason and emotion are at odds with each other is a flawed one, even though it is common in our culture and, apparently, in Randland. But cold calculation could take Rand in some very dangerous, morally dubious directions. We’ve seen how the Whitecloaks and their binary thinking start to stray very quickly from moral goodness and perhaps even from the Light. We’ve seen how good rulers like Morgase govern fairly and justly because they have empathy and understanding for their subjects.

The Void provides Rand with clarity, heightening his senses and connecting him to the world in a profound way. But it distances him from himself, and cannot accommodate his emotions, either keeping them at bay or shattering under their weight. It is a very useful and important tool in his arsenal, but so is Rand’s compassion. His warmth, his generosity, his desire for connection and simplicity in his life—all these traits make him stronger. And I worry that he doesn’t recognize that—that he’ll decide that these traits are a liability that must be ignored, or even purged.

After all, Frodo wasn’t the only person who could carry the ring to Mordor because he was the wisest, or the most stoic, or the strongest. It was because he was loving, and kind, and good. He had no designs on power or prestige, and so the ring’s effect on him was slower than those who might dream of what they could accomplish with it.

Rand doesn’t have a ring, but he does have power. He has unparalleled strength in saidin (which has its own corrupting influence) and he has authority over others—perhaps eventually over every nation in the world. How quickly could that sort of dominance go to someone’s head? Nynaeve and Egwene might me misinterpreting Rand’s actions and what he thinks of himself now that he is the Lord Dragon, but their concerns are not without merit.

Power corrupts, as they say, and the main way it does so is by making the powerful feel separated from others. They lose their empathy, because the experience of the masses is so different from their own that they can no longer understand it on an emotional level. This is what Egwene and Nynaeve want Rand to avoid, I think, even if they put it in slightly pettier terms.

So maybe my pity for Asmodean is actually worry for Rand. But I am also aware that Asmodean is as much a prisoner as the damane Rand and Aviendha met in Seanchan. Of course the damane are innocent victims, while Asmodean did much to deserve his current situation—probably many horrific things. But he is also terrified of Rand and of his fellow Forsaken, and it’s hard not to feel pity for that. He seems… a small man, somehow. He sold his soul to Darkness because of little more than petty greed, and he’s terribly unprepared to pay the price of his choice. How sad.

It’s a shame Aviendha wasn’t able to free the two damane, although I don’t know how prepared she and Rand were to deal with the fallout the two women would experience. It was heartbreaking when Seri begged her sul’dam to be saved from Aviendha, and it makes me anxious about the future of the Seanchan channelers as well as for the Aes Sedai—Min has had a few visions now of collars on Aes Sedai.

I am intrigued by the Seekers; the incredibly strict hierarchy in Seanchan culture has some interesting quirks, including the amount of social mobility it actually accommodates. It’s clearly not simple or easy to rise in the ranks, but it is possible to rise very high from one’s position at birth, as long as one is born free. (And it’s possible to fall just as far, as well.) But there are also the high-ranked slaves, such as the Seekers and, I believe, a few others that have been mentioned. Some slaves owned by very high nobility seem to have greater social status than commoners and those of lesser social status. And the Seekers, as personal property of the Empress herself, have great power indeed. We saw how Egeanin looked down on the Seeker who visited her, regarding him as property, and yet bowed to his authority completely, answering all his questions and even making him tea. And in this most recent encounter, we see Morsa want to treat Jalindin with derision but also recognize her authority to the point of accepting that she is going to be put to the question, which is clearly a horrible ordeal.

Whew! I don’t know about you all, but I am tired after all that. Next week will cover Chapters 33 and 34, in which both Liandrin and Nynaeve will learn some very hard lessons. I’m quite worried about it, actually. About Nynaeve that is. Liandrin kind of gets what’s coming to her.

Sylas K Barrett has a snow fort built in his front yard right now, actually. Maybe the neighbors are really channelers!


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