Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: Nynaeve and Liandrin Both Pay a Price in Robert Jordan’s The Fires of Heaven (Part 20)

Hello and welcome to this week’s installment of Reading the Wheel of Time. We have tricks with knives and tricks with silver arrows, a new hint about the Forsaken’s plan for Rand, and difficult, painful days both for Nynaeve and for Liandrin. Let’s get to it!

Chapter 33 opens with Nynaeve standing blindfolded, leaning against a board while Thom practices knife throwing. She curses herself for agreeing to participate in this, focusing on her annoyance and what she will do to Thom and to Valan Luca if she is so much as nicked. When it’s over she snatches off the scarf and marches over to them, but Luca immediately starts complimenting her beauty and bravery, and going on about how he will call the act “Rose Among Thorns.” Nynaeve tells him that she is no braver than she has to be, mollified a little until Luca again brings up the subject of the red dress he wants her to wear. She explodes at him again; she is definitely not going to wear such a revealing dress in public. She’s not planning to actually perform in any case; she only agreed to the practice to get Luca to stop whining about it.

The man was nothing if not deft at knowing when to change the subject. “What happened here?” he asked, suddenly all smooth solicitude.

She flinched as he touched her puffy eye. It was his bad luck to choose that. He would have done better to continue trying to stuff her into that red dress. “I did not like the way it looked at me in the mirror this morning, so I bit it.”

Her tone and expression are so fierce that Luca draws his hand away as if afraid he’s going to be bitten next, but Nynaeve can see that Thom is trying not to laugh. She’s sure he’ll tell Luca the real story of what happened, since men can never resist gossiping. She snaps at Thom for working in the dusk, and he agrees to only perform the trick in the best light; it’s only after she’s stalked away that she realizes she’s agreed to do the performance, at least by implication. She curses Thom, Luca, and herself in turn, breaking off a weed to slash at everything in her path.

The night before they learned from Egwene that there are Andoran soldiers in Cairhien, trying to claim the Sun Throne for Morgase. Lan had apparently been going off to fight any moment that Moiraine let him out of her sight, and Nynaeve for once wishes that Moiraine would keep him on a shorter leash. Elayne had been disturbed to learn about her mother sending soldiers into Cairhien, but Nynaeve is more concerned over the news about Rand.

According to Egwene, if anyone could identify stolen property in a brigand’s possession, if anyone could swear to seeing him kill anyone or burn so much as a shed, Rand was hanging him. He did not put his hands on the rope, but it was the same thing, and Egwene said he watched every execution with a face cold and hard as the mountains. That was not like him. He had been a gentle boy. Whatever had happened to him in the Waste had been very much for the worse.

But she reminds herself that Rand and his problems are far away, and hers are no closer to being solved. She still can’t remember the name of the town where the Blue Sisters were supposed to be… if they were even there anymore. Luca means to cross the river into Ghealdan tomorrow, and the town, Samara, is where the Prophet is. His followers and their tents have already overwhelmed the place, hence Luca’s obsession with having the biggest entertainment he can.

But on this side of the river are several Whitecloak encampments, no boats that can take them away, and no plan. Nynaeve curses everything all over again, including Galad for making them run and Lan for not being there. She passes through the camp, stopping by Aludra’s wagons. Aludra notices her staring and remarks that Cerandin is very skilled with her hands and feet before insisting that “Nana” try some of her new firesticks. Nynaeve observes that she thought they were called strikers, and Aludra admits she isn’t sure which name to choose. She explains some improvements she’s made, and tells Nynaeve that she must try them and tell Aludra what she thinks.

Nynaeve thanks her, carrying the box extremely carefully and thinking privately about how easily the sticks would catch fire on anything, and that flint and steel is much safer. She runs into Juilin next, who informs her that he went into Samara and found Galad there, along with a hundred or so Whitecloaks. She is rude to him, then feels bad and tries to thank him, but he scurries away as though he expects her to hit him.

She returns to their tidy wagon, and Elayne hurriedly hides something under the blankets of her bed as Nynaeve enters. Before Nynaeve can ask what it is, Elayne asks what happened to Nynaeve’s eye.

“Cerandin hit me when I wasn’t looking,” Nynaeve muttered. The remembered taste of boiled catfern and powdered mavinsleaf made her tongue curl. That was not why she had let Elayne go to the last meeting in Tel’aran’rhiod, too. She was not avoiding Egwene. It was just that she made most of the journeys into the World of Dreams between meetings, and it was only fair to give Elayne her chances to go. That was it.

She does admit, though, that she got into a fight with Cerandin after pressing the woman once again about damane and sul’dam; Nynaeve has been convinced that Cerandin knows more than she’s said, and when Nynaeve shook her Cerandin threw her over her shoulder somehow, and the two tussled. She downplays how badly she was outmatched and leaves out the part that Petra made Nynaeve apologize after he broke it up, not just Cerandin. She feels better for having told the truth, but the doubt on Elayne’s face makes her want to either shake her or change the subject.

She pulls the bedclothes back to see what Elayne is hiding and finds the a’dam hidden there. She asks what Elayne is doing and why she feels the need to hide it; Nynaeve doesn’t know why she would want to look at the filthy thing, but if she does it’s her affair. Elayne tells her off for being prim and explains that she thinks that she could make one. Nynaeve is horrified.

“I do not mean to actually make an a’dam.” Elayne held herself erect, chin tilted in that cool way of hers. She sounded offended, and icily calm. “But it is a ter’angreal, and I have puzzled out how it works. I saw you attend at least one lecture on linking. The a’dam links the two women; that is why the sul’dam must be a woman who can channel, too.” She frowned slightly. “It is a strange link, though. Different. Instead of two or more sharing, with one guiding, it is one taking full control, really. I think that is the reason a damane cannot do anything the sul’dam doesn’t want her to. I don’t really believe there is any need for the leash. The collar and bracelet would work as well without it, and in just the same ways.”

Nynaeve observes that Elayne has studied the thing quite seriously for someone who doesn’t intend to make one, and Elayne breaks in, losing her haughtiness in her excitement, to state again that the a’dam is a ter’angreal. If she can make one, that means that she could make other types of ter’angreal, maybe even angreal and sa’angreal, something no one in the Tower has been able to do for thousands of years.

“I never really thought of making anything myself before. Not anything useful. I remember seeing a craftsman once, a man who had made some chairs for the palace. They were not gilded, or elaborately carved—they were meant for the servants’ hall—but I could see the pride in his eyes. Pride in what he had made, a thing well crafted. I would love to feel that, I think.”

She asks Nynaeve to imagine what they could do, what they could make, if they knew what the Forsaken know. Still, she thinks she could figure out how Whitebridge was made, and cuendillar, too.

Nynaeve tells her to slow down, and to stay away from the Seal—who knows what could happen if Elayne went channeling at it. Personally Nynaeve can’t see what all the fuss is over the idea of making things, she never cared much for making anything but poultices and salves. Healing is what is important—any man can build a bridge.

Suddenly she remembers to tell Elayne about Galad being in Samara. Elayne curses, but refuses to let Nynaeve lecture her on her language. Nynaeve doesn’t find any of their options particularly appealing, but Elayne isn’t too worried about Galad finding them as long as they stay near the menagerie; he won’t go near one. He’s alright with hunting animals, and with eating them, but he believes that putting animals in cages is cruel. Privately, Nynaeve thinks that Elayne is just looking for any excuse to stay with Luca’s group so that she can do her highwalk in front of an audience. Which means that Nynaeve will have to do the knife throwing act with Thom.

Nynaeve declares that they are going to take the very first boat that can carry four people, but Elayne gently points out that it would be better to know where they are going. Or they could just go to Tear, if Nynaeve would give up on trying to remember the town.

But Nynaeve is determined to return to Rand with Aes Sedai to support him, not trail into Tear like a refugee looking for his protection. She assures Elayne that she will remember.

Elayne cooks what Nynaeve considers to be a pretty fancy meal, and doesn’t understand why Thom and Juilin always find a reason to eat somewhere else when it’s Nynaeve’s turn to cook. Luca is also there, as he is every night except the ones when Nynaeve cooks, sitting too close and plying her with compliments about her bravery and her beauty and how good she would look in the red dress. Nynaeve is flummoxed, constantly trying to move her stool away from him and “accidentally” elbowing him in the ribs when his mouth gets too close to her ear.

Finally she stands, and Luca looks hopeful before Nynaeve foists helping Thom and Juilin with the dishes onto him. Elayne follows her lead, putting her dish into Luca’s hands after Nynaeve’s and following her into the wagon, and Nynaeve wants to hug her until Elayne starts admonishing her for encouraging Luca.

Stubborn to a fault, the other woman refused to be diverted. “I may be younger than you, but sometimes I think I know more of men than you ever will. For a man like Valan Luca, that coy little flight of yours tonight was only asking him to keep pursuing you. If you would snap his nose off the way you did the first day, he might give up. You don’t tell him to stop, you do not even ask! You kept smiling at him, Nynaeve. What is the man supposed to think? You haven’t smiled at anyone in days!”

Nynaeve points out that she is trying to control her temper, and Elayne laughs and quotes Lini at her. “You cannot hold the sun down at dawn.”

Nynaeve asks for the ring, and Elayne suggests that she should be the one to go tonight. Bair is suspicious of why Nynaeve hasn’t been the one to come to the meetings in some time, and Elayne had to listen to a lecture meant for Nynaeve. But Nynaeve says please, and that she has questions for Birgitte, which isn’t exactly a lie. Elayne tells her to ask Birgitte again if they can tell Egwene the truth. She also wonders why the Wise Ones never come with Egwene, why Egwene doesn’t even want to talk about the Tower in front of them.

“I think they want to avoid the Tower as much as possible.” And wise they were indeed for that. If not for Healing, she would avoid it, and Aes Sedai, too. She was not becoming Aes Sedai; she was just hoping to learn more of Healing. And to help Rand, certainly. “They are free women, Elayne. Even if the Tower was not in the mess it is, would they really want Aes Sedai traipsing through the Waste, scooping them up to carry back to Tar Valon?

Elayne supposes that must be it, and settles down to watch. Nynaeve falls asleep thinking about Luca and how she’s still not going to wear that red dress. Then she is standing in Tel’aran’rhiod, outside the wagons with the lions and bears watching her—the dogs, horses, and s’redit are too domesticated to show up in the World of Dreams. She’s shocked to realize that she’s wearing the red dress and is quick to change it, not wanting Birgitte—whose soldier’s ways sometimes make her “as bad as any man”—to see her in it. But she’s too late, as Birgitte steps out from the shadows, leaning on her silver bow as she asks Nynaeve why she changed. She even goes off on a story about a time she wore a dress just like it to distract some guards while Gaidal snuck by, and later to go dancing with him. Nynaeve cuts her off, tugging her Two Rivers shawl about her shoulders.

Before she can say anything else, however, Birgitte simply says “I have found her,” and Nynaeve forgets everything else. She asks if Birgitte can take her there, if she was spotted, and Birgitte answers that she can take her, but that Nynaeve must stay silent and not take any action against Moghedien. There are other Forsaken.

Nynaeve feels her apprehension and terror mounting, and considers merely asking what Birgitte saw and leaving it at that. But she sees Birgitte looking at her, not doubting her courage but simply waiting, ready to do this thing if Nynaeve asks, and she agrees that she will be silent and not even think of channeling. Birgitte lays a hand on Nynaeve’s arm and they are standing on nothing, surrounded by blackness. Birgitte points downward and she sees Moghedien, also standing on darkness and peering downward, clearly listening intently. And below her, four high-backed chairs sit on a space of white-tiled floor. Nynaeve is surprised that she can hear what the people in the chairs are saying as clearly as if she’d been down there with them. One woman, whose chair is carved to look like naked acrobats, is asking a man with a scar on his face why he is suddenly being a coward, while another woman who Nynaeve can’t see behind her chair of silver and white stone, points out that this has been the plan from the beginning.

The second man was large and darkly handsome, with white wings streaking his temples. He toyed with an ornate golden goblet, leaning back in a throne. […] “He will concentrate on you,” the big man said in a deep voice. “If need be, one close to him will die, plainly at your order. He will come for you. And while he is fixed on you alone, the three of us, linked, will take him. What has changed to alter any of that?”

The scarred man answers that nothing has changed, including his distrust of the others, and insists that he must be part of the link.

The golden-haired woman threw back her head and laughed. “Poor man,” she said mockingly, waving a beringed hand at him. “Do you think he would not notice that you were linked? He has a teacher, remember. A poor one, but not a complete fool. Next you will ask to include enough of those Black Ajah children to take the circle beyond thirteen, so you or Rahvin must have control.”

“If Rahvin trusts us enough to link when he must allow one of us to guide,” the melodious voice said, “you can display an equal trust.” The big man looked into his goblet, and the mist-clad woman smiled faintly. “If you cannot trust us not to turn on you,” the unseen woman continued, “then trust that we will be watching each other too closely to turn. You agreed to all of this, Sammael. Why do you begin to quibble now?”

And then Birgitte touches Nynaeve’s arm and they are back among the wagons again. They discuss what they saw, Birgitte explaining that the woman hidden by her chair was Lanfear, and the other Graendal. She warns Nynaeve not to underestimate Graendal, that she is devious. Then Moghedien’s voice observes that Graendal is not devious enough.

Birgitte turns and nocks an arrow at once, but then goes flying through the air to crash into Nynaeve’s wagon and fall in a crumpled heap. Nynaeve reaches for saidar but finds a wall between her and the True Source before she is seized and dragged upwards by her feet, her clothing disappearing as she’s twisted into a painful shape, hanging in the air like an animal caught in a net. She feels like her spine will break if she moves, and although she tries she can’t step out of the dream.

Strangely, her fear was gone, now that it was too late. She was certain that she could have been quick enough, if not for the terror that had laced through her when she needed to act. All she wanted was a chance to put her hands around Moghedien’s throat. Much good that does now! Every breath came in strained panting.

Moghedien steps around to where Nynaeve can see her, surrounded by the glow of saidar, and explains that she got the idea for this from Graendal’s chair. She asks if Nynaeve really thought she was Moghedien’s equal, just because she got lucky once, and observes that she has put all this effort into looking for Nynaeve only to have Nynaeve come to her.

Nynaeve snarls at Moghedien to do her worst while trying to surreptitiously steal a glance at Birgitte’s prone form.

“Lucky, you say? If you hadn’t managed to sneak up on me, I’d have striped you till you wailed. I’d have wrung your neck like a chicken.” She had only one chance, if Birgitte was dead, and a bleak one. To make Moghedien so angry that she killed her quickly in a rage. If only there was some way to warn Elayne. Her dying would have to do it.

She keeps taunting Moghedien and reminding her of their feud, until Moghedien gags her with the Power. She calls Nynaeve simple and explains that she is quite angry enough with her already. She decides that she is going to turn Nynaeve into a horse, that every time Moghedien brings Nynaeve to Tel’aran’rhiod she will be a horse, unless Moghedien—or someone else with the ability—changes it. And Moghedien will give her a saddle and a bridle and Nynaeve will remember who she is while Moghedien rides her.

Moghedien took a deep breath, and her dress darkened to something that glistened in the pale light; Nynaeve could not be sure, but she thought it might be the color of wet blood. “You make me approach Semirhage. It will be well to be done with you, so I can turn my full attention to matters of importance. Is the little yellow-haired chit with you in this menagerie?”

The gag removes itself but when Nynaeve tries to say that she is alone she is suddenly wracked with pain. When it’s gone Moghedien promises that she isn’t going to kill Nynaeve no matter how much she tries to provoke her, and promises to make that first bout of pain feel like a lover’s caress if she continues to lie. Sobbing, Nynaeve makes up a story about how Elayne was afraid to go back to the tower and ran off with a rich man “old enough to be her grandfather” in Tanchico. But Moghedien just laughs.

She tells Nynaeve that she can almost see what Semirhage finds so fascinating about breaking the spirit. She also tells her that Compulsion is even stronger in Tel’aran’rhiod than in the waking world, and that she is going to make Nynaeve shield and bind Elayne and bring her to Moghedien. She’s just going on, letting Nynaeve think about bringing Elayne to her like a pet, when suddenly a silver arrow shoves out right from Moghedien’s heart and Nynaeve drops to the ground.

Birgitte, standing and nocking her bow but clearly wavering, shouts at Nynaeve to get away.

The glow around Moghedien increased until it seemed as if the blinding sun surrounded her.

The night folded in over Birgitte like an ocean wave, enveloping her in blackness. When it passed, the bow dropped atop empty clothes as they collapsed. The clothes faded like fog burning off, and only the bow and arrows remained, shining in the moonlight.

Moghedien vanishes too, leaving behind only the arrow, stained with blood. Nynaeve eventually climbs to her hands and knees and crawls over to cradle Birgitte’s bow, naked and weeping as she begs Birgitte to forgive her.

A moment later, in the waking world, Liandrin leaps to her feet as Moghedien comes staggering out of the bedroom, soaked in blood. Temaile and Chesmal, the only two others in the house at the moment, rush to her side, asking what happened. Moghedien ignores the question, answering only that Chesmal has some ability with Healing. Liandrin sneers to herself as Chesmal obeys instantly, observing what faithful, “obedient lapdogs” she and Temaile are. It only takes a moment, and afterwards Moghedien is weak and still needs to be supported by the two others.

As they turn to take Moghedien back into the bedroom, Liandrin seizes her chance and strikes out, with all her strength and everything she has been able to work out of what Moghedien did to her. But even as she does Liandrin sees saidar flood into Moghedien, and Liandrin’s strike dies as she’s abruptly shielded from the Source, then picked up and slammed against the wall, pinned and helpless.

Moghedien steps in front of her, wiping her mouth with Temaile’s silk scarf and channeling away the blood on her dress. Liandrin tries to convince Moghedien that she was only trying to help her sleep—her accent slipping into that of a commoner’s in her panic—but Moghedien grabs her tongue with air and threatens to rip it out. She tells Liandrin that it’s too bad for her that Nynaeve makes Moghedien think like Semirhage, otherwise she might just have killed her. Instead she ties off the Shield in a manner far too complicated for Liandrin to follow, and assures Liandrin that she will have to search a long time for someone who can untie the weave, not that she will have a chance to do so.

“You thought you had learned something of Compulsion,” Moghedien went on. “I will teach you a bit more.” For an instant Liandrin shivered, Moghedien’s eyes filling her vision as the woman’s voice filled her ears, her entire head. “Live.” The instant passed, and sweat beaded on Liandrin’s face as the Chosen smiled at her. “Compulsion has many limits, but a command to do what someone wants to do in their inmost depths will hold for a lifetime. You will live, however much you think you want to take your life. And you will think of it. You will lie weeping many nights, wishing for it.”

Liandrin tries to beg for mercy, but Moghedien only slaps her with the Power whenever she tries, then tells her that she will be given to the lady of the house to be her new scullery maid, who no doubt will have something to say to her about the treatment of her husband. Then she tells Temaile to “prepare her” for Evon and Amellia, but to make sure to tell them that they are not allowed to kill or maim her. She wants Liandrin to keep that thin thread of hope that she might escape, that she might one day find someone who can undo her Shield.

She and Chesmal leave Liandrin, their talk turning to Nynaeve’s location and how the menagerie shouldn’t be too hard to find. Liandrin tries to convince Temaile that they could still overwhelm Moghedien, reminding her of the dissent in the ranks of the Forsaken, and what rewards they might be given.

For a moment—one blessed, wonderful moment—the child-faced woman hesitated. Then she shook her head. “You have never known how high to lift your eyes. ‘Who reaches for the sun will be burned.’ No, I think that I will not be burned for reaching too high. I think that I will do as I am told, and soften you for Evon.” Suddenly she smiled, showing teeth that made her even more vulpine. “How surprised he will be when you crawl to kiss his feet.”

 

So I guess the moral of this week is not to try to touch the sun. Don’t try to keep it down with you, don’t try to reach for it when it’s up in the sky. Just don’t do it.

Jordan really likes the sun metaphors, doesn’t he?

“As well try to understand the sun, Perrin,” Gaul tells Perrin regarding women and Faile’s baffling behavior in The Shadow Rising. And Faile herself used an extended metaphor in which Rand was the sun and Perrin a bear when she thought Perrin might be sniffing (literally) after Berelain—“That one is not interested in hunting a bear, however fine his hide would look stretched on a wall. She hunts the sun.” For another example, when Perrin argues with Moiraine in The Dragon Reborn, Loial shows that even the Ogier favor such metaphors with “Better to embrace the sun than to anger an Aes Sedai.”

Not that it’s a bad metaphor. The One Power is also often compared to the sun by both characters and the narrative. Callandor is often described as burning or shining as brightly as the sun, and in The Dragon Reborn Egwene’s newfound ability to always sense the Source is compared to “ the sun at noon over her shoulder.” Siuan, with her ability to perceive ta’veren, describes Rand blazing like the sun the first time she laid eyes on him. And many of Jordan’s cultures seem to be heavily invested in metaphors (thinking of the Tairen and their fish metaphors) especially teachers and older women (Lini, the Wise Ones). So although it can occasionally feel stale, overall I think that it’s a nice bit of world building.

Just like with Asmodean last week, I feel kind of bad for Liandrin. I mean, don’t get me wrong she’s a bad person and not very wise, but I honestly do hope that she finds a way out of that shield and gets some revenge on Moghedien. Not as a redemption arc, exactly, just an evil villain taking out a worse evil villain, which is always a satisfying element in any story. And what Moghedien has done to Liandrin is so objectively horrible that even if it has a bit of an eye-for-an-eye justice about it (Liandrin happily turned Egwene, Elayne, and Nynaeve over to become slaves, and now she will be forced to be a scullery maid to the family she helped harm) but some things are too drastic I think, and no good person can wish them on another.

I’m interested by the parallels in the torture of Liandrin and Nynaeve and the way they are set against each other in this chapter. Both Liandrin and Nynaeve are paying the price for overestimating themselves, or at least for underestimating Moghedien. In some ways Nynaeve’s mistake feels more egregious; Egwene did warn her about the dangers of Tel’aran’rhiod, showed her how someone more knowledgeable in the World of Dreams could manipulate it against her. Nynaeve knows that she is stronger in the One Power than Moghedien, but the Forsaken still has so much age, knowledge, and practice on her. And of course, Nynaeve’s mistake costs not only her own suffering but the life of someone else. It may be that Nynaeve also overestimated Birgitte’s safety—she is a hero of legend, one of the heroes of the Horn, and it was probably pretty difficult for Nynaeve imaging anything actually happening to Birgitte Silverbow, even when Birgitte mentioned her own vulnerability in Tel’aran’rhiod.

On the other hand, Nynaeve and Elayne are desperate, and desperate times call for big risks. Perhaps Nynaeve didn’t really underestimate Moghedien, she just felt like she had no choice but to risk it—that really has been the journey of all our Two Rivers heroes since the series began. Meanwhile Liandrin is just being power-hungry and overestimating her own skill. She missed her better chance to strike when Moghedien was wounded, too. If you’re waiting for your chance against a superior opponent, you have to make sure it’s the right chance. Liandrin’s biggest mistake is her impatience; she should have waited much longer, learned more, maybe felt out some allies among her Black Ajah cohorts. We saw that Temaile was caught by the idea, and I imagine the greed of Darkfriends might have brought at least a few more around, with careful planning. But Liandrin is clearly not one to play a long game, and that’s kind of the main skill you need to be a powerful Darkfriend.

Speaking of Nynaeve being stronger in the One Power than Moghedien, I was surprised at her close-mindedness when Elayne was enthusing over the making of ter’angreal. Obviously healing (and now Healing) is Nynaeve’s first and only love, her main priority, but I was surprised when her inner monologue revealed that she still has no intention of actually becoming Aes Sedai. She hasn’t groused much about portraying herself as Aes Sedai to people, nor has she as many qualms about working with the Aes Sedai—she’s determined to find them and bring them to Rand’s aid, so at least she believes that they can be trusted that much, and useful too. The Nynaeve of The Eye of the World certainly never believed such a thing. But I suppose all this can be viewed as a means to an end, and Nynaeve is still planning to get away from any association with the White Tower as soon as she can.

But she’s lying to herself, just as she’s lying about her reasons for avoiding the meetings with Egwene and the Wise Ones. Because we’ve seen Nynaeve take pleasure, even exalt, in her power and strength. We’ve seen her interest in learning new weaves, and her skill at it. Even if Healing is her priority, she can’t honestly believe she has no interest in any other part of channeling. It makes me wonder what it will take for Nynaeve to stop putting up these walls between herself and her own truth.

I was so disappointed in her when she regarded Elayne’s interest in making things as pointless. Even if creating ter’angreal isn’t within Nynaeve’s interest, surely she doesn’t think that the only use anyone should have for the One Power is Healing. Any man can build a bridge… but not one like Whitebridge. Never mind the fact that maybe you could create ter’angreal to aid in Healing. Never mind the fact that she uses a ter’angreal every day to go into Tel’aran’rhiod and work with Birgitte.

Also it’s striking to realize that the a’dam, for all it feels so powerful and terrible, is the lowest form of angreal, much less powerful than the other two types. It feels like an item capable of enslaving someone should be much more powerful and difficult to create… but thinking about this makes me realize how little I’ve considered the a’dam and where it comes from. Back when we first encountered them in The Great Hunt we knew much less about angreal and channeling, and nothing about linking, so when I learned that an Aes Sedai taught the Seanchan how to create the a’dam, I didn’t analyze it very much. But now it occurs to me to wonder who makes the a’dam for the Seanchan. Do they just have a big collection of them made by that original Aes Sedai? Or are the damane forced to make them somehow? Which… is a horrible thought but certainly fits how the Seanchan do things. I also wonder if that Aes Sedai invented the a’dam, or if she was just bringing something that others once knew how to make. It wouldn’t have been very hard for the channelers of the Age of Legends to make such a thing, but as Nynaeve puts it, it’s a filthy thing and I don’t think any ancient Aes Sedai but a Darkfriend should want to touch such a thing.

Still, despite Nynaeve’s habitual unreasonableness, I still felt for her in these chapters. She’s always at her meanest when she’s feeling vulnerable and scared, and right now she is basically lost, with no clear direction or sense of her own purpose. It makes me think of Siuan and Leane a little. Like Leane, Elayne has found some other things besides their initial mission to occupy her—not just the a’dam but also the highwalking. Nynaeve, on the other hand, needs that singular purpose to hold her steady, and right now, she doesn’t know how to find it. That’s why she’s being so stubborn about remembering the name of the town that she saw in Elaida’s study. Unreasonable or not, I don’t blame her for wanting more than to go back to Tear feeling like refugees seeking Rand’s protection. Though she might remember that they just saved Rand from the threat of having that collar put around his neck, and found a seal, and at least put a wrench in both Liandrin and Moghedien’s plans. That’s far from failing at their mission.

I laughed out loud at “I did not like the way it looked at me in the mirror this morning, so I bit it.” Nynaeve has some great lines. The Cerandin incident she kind of deserved, though. Also, since when does Nynaeve think she’s a good cook? I seem to remember her being very frustrated as she struggled through trying to cook something for Lan in the kitchens in the Stone of Tear. I remember finding it funny that she suddenly cared about cooking, as though that was something Lan needed from her. So someone’s memory is off here. Could be mine. Could be Jordan’s. And of course it could be Nynaeve’s, given how often she’s honest with herself. Heck, maybe she decided at some point that she’d figured cooking out, and that’s what we’re seeing here. The most amusing part is that she must have no taste, if she’s consistently making something no one likes, but she still likes it.

One thing I keep forgetting in the progression of events is that Elaida has the same information as Nynaeve about where the Blues are suspected to be gathering. There’s so much going on in The Fires of Heaven that it’s hard to keep track, and we often go a long time without checking in on someone (we haven’t seen Perrin and his gang the entire book so far!). Still, it wouldn’t do to forget about Elaida, who isn’t going to sit on her heels when it comes to tracking down the rebels. Or about Alviarin, who is not only Black Ajah but possibly in direct communication with some of the Forsaken, which is more than we can say of any of the other Black Ajah we’ve met so far—Liandrin and company’s predicament aside, that is.

Another detail I love about this section is Nynaeve’s observation that men are incurable gossips. I’m often put off by the way Jordan handles the gender divide, the suggestion that each gender finds the other one just completely baffling and alien, the reliance on our-world stereotypes in a world that claims to have a very different power balance between men and women. But there have been several instances in which one side has regarded the other as gossipy, and it’s about even from side to side, from what I noticed. I like that, because it suggests that the differences are more imagined than real; most humans like gossip, and it’s silly to suggest one side is the problem and the other is “normal.”

Also can we talk about the absolute nonsense of Elayne telling Nynaeve that she was leading Luca on? What was that? I know Elayne’s young but really. No, Nynaeve didn’t punch Luca in the face or scream “leave me alone” in his ear, but she did everything short of that. She’s clearly miserable all the time, he’s had to coerce her into everything she’s done with the show, and he won’t take no for an answer on the red dress—so why the heck would she assume that he’d take no for an answer now? If the man can take her constantly moving away, hitting him in the gut with her elbow, and giving him dish duty when he hoped for a moonlight stroll, that’s on him.

When did he decide he liked Nynaeve anyway? I thought it was Elayne he was all hot and bothered about, while Nynaeve was the jerk who gave him a penny and sneered at him all the time. God, Luca’s one of those guys who “loves the chase” isn’t he. If he were a modern man in our world he’d probably start in with the negging.

The way Nynaeve’s life is going right now, I wouldn’t be surprised if she does end up in the red dress. Here’s hoping they decide the risk of seeing Galad is too great and get out of there before Luca has a chance to stuff her into it anyway, followed by the narrative acting like she kind of wanted it the whole time. Don’t do that to me, narrative.

I loved the image of the black space where Birgitte took Nynaeve to spy on Moghedien spying on Lanfear, Graendal, Rahvin, and Sammael. Spies spying on the spy. I wonder how many times you could have this recursive watching going on, like when you hold two mirrors up to each other. We also know what was up with that attack on Rand and the Aiel now—everyone thought the tactics of the attack made no sense, and Asmodean thought it strange that Sammael would announce himself so boldly, as if baiting Rand. Now we know that he was baiting Rand, but Nynaeve doesn’t have enough of the other pieces to understand the conversation she overheard.

We also learned a little more about linking, that if it is a circle of thirteen women they can give the main control to a man, but if not, the women have to control it.

I’ve been worried about Birgitte’s safety for a while now, but I can’t help thinking that the way she died seemed odd to me. Of course she doesn’t have a body that can die in the physical sense, so who is to say what the death of a spirit in the Dream looks like—but the wolves had corpses left behind when Slayer slaughtered them in Tel’aran’rhiod, and it makes me wonder if Birgitte was really killed. Perhaps Moghedien snatched her away and hid her somewhere, in some dark corner of Tel’aran’rhiod where she thinks no one will ever find her. But she could still be rescued, maybe by Egwene, who knows Birgitte exists now and is becoming a stronger Dreamer every day.

That’s my hope, anyway, and I’m going to hold onto it for now. I want Birgitte to be still alive and Liandrin to get free from Moghedien and kick her butt. I don’t like Moghedien anyway, and not in that “villains are fun to hate” sort of way. I really liked the image of her as a spider in a web, but she really hasn’t lived up to that much. Lanfear is more what I picture when someone describes a woman who manipulates and plans in the shadows, which I suppose is why she and Lanfear have this rivalry of sorts, right up to the way they both claim Tel’aran’rhiod as their own domain, despite the fact that all the Forsaken know how to use it. And I think Moghedien protests too much when she claims that she gets all these ideas for torture and nudity and cruel vengeance from Graendal—I don’t think she needed any help in that department, and it feels really weird coming out of the mouth of any Forsaken.

And speaking of Moghedien, aren’t hurts taken in Tel’aran’rhiod harder to Heal than those experienced in the waking world? I wonder if Moghedien is going to struggle with lasting effects from this injury.

So that’s it for this week. Two more chapters next week, 35 and 36. Till then, I leave you with a single thought, the one note I made while reading that I no longer remember the meaning of:

  • secrets in Tel’aran’rhiod.

I mean, it sounds good at any rate.

Sylas K Barrett is very tired this week, but not as tired as just about everyone in The Fires of Heaven. The Wise Ones are right, Elayne and Nynaeve need some real sleep! Not that they’re likely to get much any time soon.

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