Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: Women Make Their Own Choices in Robert Jordan’s The Fires of Heaven (Part 32)

Welcome, welcome to part 32 of Reading The Wheel of Time. We’re really getting close to the end of the book now, covering Chapters 52 and 53 of The Fires of Heaven this week and boy oh boy am I having a lot of emotions about it. I’m sure you all know why.

Before we get started I’d just like to thank you all for your patience after we didn’t go up at the usual time on Tuesday! I needed a bit longer for this week, and unlike Moiraine, I was able to take it.

I have to say, this is one of those weeks where it was really difficult to recap without using far too many quotes. This is the best, tightest writing I’ve seen from Jordan so far, and every exchange is laden with as much meaning as the spaces between the words in Moiraine’s letter. I tried to keep down the amount of quotations I included, but it was not easy! And I have so much to say about this one! But I’ll try not to get ahead of myself.

Chapter 52 opens with Rand shaving in the morning and trying to control the rage that still bubbles up at the thought of Rahvin. He’s been keeping his back to Aviendha to give her time to get dressed, but when he turns around he finds her wearing nothing but her stockings and watching him intently. It’s the first time he’s allowed himself to look at her while she’s undressed but she doesn’t seem to notice. Instead, she tells him that she would never “shame him” in front of other men, and that she didn’t ask Enaila and Somara and Lamelle to watch Rand. Rand points out that it’s a “fine distinction,” between telling them to carry him off like a babe if he wavered and just letting him think that’s what would happen. Rand asks if she intends to come naked, and although Aviendha has never seemed to mind being nude in front of him, she notices him really looking at her and is suddenly flying into her clothes and changing the subject, asking a myriad of questions about the plans for the day. Rand reminds her that it’s all arranged and wonders why she suddenly seems so flustered.

Organizing the whole thing with the chiefs had been simple and quickly accomplished, and the Wise Ones had come afterwards to remind Rand that his duty to Elayne does not outweigh his duty to the Aiel. Rand only intends to take Aiel on this attack, and he hopes once again that the Prophecy of Rhuidean is wrong somehow and that he won’t destroy their people.

He’s surprised when she tells him that a woman came by the night before, looking for him—he forgot all about Colavaere. Aviendha tells him that she took Colavaere back to her own rooms and they had a talk. Rand won’t have to worry about “treekiller flipskirts” bothering him anymore. Rand responds that this was his goal, and that he hopes that Aviendha didn’t hurt her badly. Aviendha doesn’t understand his claim that she can’t beat a lady—to her all women are just women, unless they are Wise Ones. The point is that she won’t give Rand any more trouble now.

Rand sighed. Not a method he would or could have chosen, but it might actually work. Or it might only make Colavaere and the others more sly from now on. […] Whatever the effect for him, Aviendha could find herself set upon in some dark hallway and given ten times what she had given Colavaere, if not worse. “Next time, let me handle matters my way. I am the Car’a’carn, remember.”

Aviendha responds by telling him that he has shaving cream behind his ear. Asmodean arrives, well-dressed as ever, and begins to gently suggest that he would like to come with Rand for the attack, under Rand’s eye where he can prove his loyalty. He reminds Rand of the tuft of grass at the cliff’s edge and how if Rand fails he is worse than dead. Rand wishes he could see the shield that Lanfear put around Asmodean, and is unsure if she was telling the truth when she claimed it would degrade over time. After a moment’s consideration, however, he agrees, with a bit of a veiled threat, that “Natael” may come.

Rand glances at his sword but doesn’t take it up; the little man ter’angreal in his pocket is the only weapon he needs. For a moment he considers Skimming to Tear to get Callandor, which would make killing Rahvin easy. But he’s not sure he can trust himself with all that power.

The taint seemed part of him. Rage oozed just beneath the surface, at Rahvin, at himself. If it broke loose, and he held even Callandor… What would he do? He would be invincible. With the other, he could Skim to Shayol Ghul itself, put an end to it all, end it now one way or another. One way or another. No. He was not in this alone. He could not afford anything but victory.

He murmurs aloud that the world rides on his shoulders, and is startled when Aviendha uses the One Power to make him feel like he’s been stabbed in the backside with a needle. She tells him that she’s just checking to see if “The Lord Dragon” is still made of flesh like the rest of them, and pretends not to feel it when he retaliates in kind.

Asmodean and Mat are waiting outside, but Rand is shocked to see that all the Maidens are gone. Mat tells Rand that Melindhra tried to kill him, explaining the whole story and ending with a simple “I killed her.” Rand tells Mat that he’s sorry Mat had to do that, and promises to deal with Sammael soon. Aviendha interrupts, demanding to know where the Maidens are and what Rand has done. She shoots down Asmodean’s suggestion that it is because of what happened with Melindhra and insists that Rand has done something “great and dark” to make this happen.

Mat also tells Rand that he, too, is coming to Caemlyn.

“I’m tired of them sneaking up on me. I want to sneak up on one of them for a change. I just hope I get the bloody pat on the head instead of the bloody flower,” he added with a grimace.

Rand doesn’t ask what he means, but he can see the advantage in having two ta’veren together to possibly twist chance in his favor.

Egwene and Moiraine arrive next, Egwene looking stately and very Aes Sedai-like despite her Aiel clothing. But it’s Moiraine’s appearance which truly strikes Rand, how beautifully she is dressed and how queen-like her bearing is. She smiles warmly at Mat, indicating pleasure that he is coming and advising him to learn to trust the Pattern and not to waste his life attempting to change what cannot be changed.

She then gives Rand two letters, but they turn out to be penned by Moiraine, and both sealed. One is addressed to Rand and the other to Thom. Rand is confused, remarking that she’s always been more than willing to say whatever she wants to his face.

“You have changed from the boy I first saw outside the Winespring Inn.” Her voice was a soft silver chiming. “You are hardly the same at all. I pray you have changed enough.”

Egwene murmured something low. Rand thought it was, “I pray you have not changed too much.” She was frowning at the letters as if she, too, wondered what was in them. So was Aviendha.

Moiraine tells him, briskly, that she wants him to read the letter when he has time to think on its contents, and asks that he deliver Thom’s letter when Rand next sees him. Also, there is something at the docks that he must see. She doesn’t wait for an answer, only starts down the hallway announcing that she has horses ready for all of them, even Mat. Rand is about to tell her no, but Mat points out that an hour can’t hurt, and Asmodean adds that it would be good for Rand to be seen in Cairhien this morning, in case Rahvin has any spies about. When Aviendha advises that only fools ignore Aes Sedai, Rand relents.

Down at the docks, Kadere is sitting with his wagons and contemplating the trap he’s caught in. Not for the first time, he considers slipping onto one of the departing barges, but he doesn’t dare disobey Lanfear. He sees Rand and his party emerge, hears people shouting to the glory of the Lord Dragon and sometimes to Lord Matrim and the Red Hand. He’s just as happy when they pass down the wagon line without so much as glancing at him; Moiraine makes him nervous and he doesn’t want to think very hard about the items she’s made him store in his wagons.

Yesterday evening she had made him strip the canvas off that oddly twisted redstone doorframe in the wagon just behind his. She seemed to take a perverse delight in making him help her himself with whatever she wanted to study. He would have covered the thing up again if he could bear to go near it, or could make any of his drivers do so.

He ignores Mat, still wearing Kadere’s hat, and Egwene and Aviendha, though he notes that Aviendha has a “light of ownership” in her eyes as she looks at Rand, confirming for Kadere that she is sleeping with him. He notes that Natael is there as well, He’s interrupted in his thoughts by a voice asking if he’s going to look at an old friend.

Turning, he’s shocked to see Keille standing before him. It seems impossible, no one but Aiel survive alone in the Waste. He was just as happy for her to have died, as well, but he knows that she stands as high among the Darkfriends as Natael, and might perhaps be able to give him some answers, and be someone he can feed to his superiors in order to avoid blame for everything that has gone wrong.

He turns to close the door and when he has turned back he sees Lanfear, not Keille standing there. His scream freezes in his throat and he drops to his knees, asking her how he can serve her. She answers that he can tell her what Rand has been up to, besides conquering Cairhien. Kadere grovels a little, telling her that someone like him can’t get close to the Dragon Reborn, and racks his brain for anything useful. He tells her about Rand sending Aiel south in great numbers, though neither the Tairen nor the Cairhienin seem to notice, and about the school Rand has founded. As he talks, he notices her face growing darker.

At the last wagon in line, Rand watches Moiraine peer into the caskets containing the two carefully packed cuendillar seals, and believes he can feel that faint miasma of evil rotting from one of them. Moiraine declares that they will be safe there, then starts back up the line of wagons leaving a frustrated Rand behind. He asks Egwene if Moiraine told her what is going on.

“Just that you had to see something. That you had to come here, anyway.”

“You must trust Aes Sedai,” Aviendha said, almost as levelly, but with a hint of doubt. Mat snorted.”

Rand is just telling Natael to carry a message to Bael when the side of Kadere’s wagon suddenly explodes. Lanfear emerges, shouting and waving something—when she flings it into the air Rand can see for a moment that it’s Kadere’s entire skin. She screams at Rand that “he told me” that Rand had let another woman touch him again. Moiraine runs at her, and Lan too although Moiraine shouts a no—he hits an invisible wall and is thrown backwards into the wall.

While he was in midair, Moiraine jerked forward, feet skidding along the pavement, until she was face to face with Lanfear. It was only for a moment. The Forsaken looked at her as though wondering what could have gotten in her way, then Moiraine was flung to one side so hard she rolled over and over until she disappeared beneath one of the wagons.

The docks are chaos as civilians and boats try to escape this obvious use of the One Power, while any Aiel in the vicinity are veiling themselves and rushing at Lanfear. They are met with arrows of fire, as are those who try to flee, and Rand can tell that Lanfear is barely paying attention to any of them. He uses saidin to suck the heat from the flames and sink it into the river, then channels a dome that engulfs himself and most of the wagons; he’s not even sure what he’s doing, but the misty gray wall stops Lanfear’s attack and protects everyone outside the bubble. He feels sorrow for those who are injured or dead, but it’s distant outside the Void.

Rand can also see that Egwene and Aviendha have somehow managed to stay close enough to him to get inside his wall, while Mat and Asmodean are trapped outside. Rand hopes they will shield Lanfear as he tries to snare her with Air, but something snaps his flows, and Lanfear demands to know which of them is Aviendha. They both convulse, heads thrown back and drawn up on their toes, screaming. Rand feels a thought in his mind that tells him how to cut Lanfear’s flows and the two girls collapse.

Lanfear screams that Rand is hers, calling him Lews Therin. Rand, desperate to distract her from Aviendha and Egwene, responds by calling her Mierin, and that he always belonged to Ilyena.

The Void quivered with sorrow and loss. And with desperation, as he fought something besides the scouring of saidin. For a moment he hung balanced. I am Rand al’Thor. And, Ilyena, ever and always my heart. Balanced on a razor edge. I am Rand al’Thor! Other thoughts tried to well up, a fountain of them, of Ilyena, of Mierin, of what he could do to defeat her. He forced them down, even the last. If he came down on the wrong side… I am Rand al’Thor! “Your name is Lanfear, and I’ll die before I love one of the Forsaken.”

He sees something like anguish cross Lanfear’s face, only to be replaced by coldness. She tells him that if he is not hers, then he is dead.

Rand feels agony in his chest, blinding him, and realizes that his heart isn’t beating. Flailing and desperate he manages to cut through her weave and feels his heart start again, manages to get air in his lungs and see again. He tries to lash out at her with clumps of Air, hoping to knock her out, but Lanfear is able to block his attacks and puts her back to one of the wagons, promising him that he will beg her to let him love her before he dies.

She strikes out at his link to saidin, and Rand desperately tries to fend off what feels like a knife blade cutting between him and the True Source. He doesn’t know how Lanfear can know where his link is, but he struggles to defend and attack, overwhelmed with the desperate struggle and with trying to keep Lews Therin’s thoughts—Lews Therin himself—at bay.

She climbs up on the wagon by the redstone doorway ter’angreal, taunting him with promises of torture and death for both him and Aviendha and Egwene, as Rand uses the ter’angreal in his pocket to make the flow of saidin thicker and harder to cut through. Then she just says the word “Pain” and Rand feels it, like hot needles stabbing into him. He can’t believe how strong her power is, and considers calling down lightning or wrapping her in fire.

Images darted through the pain. A woman in a dark merchant’s dress, toppling from her horse, the fire-red sword light in his hands; she had come to kill him, with a fistful of other Darkfriends. Mat’s bleak eyes; I killed her. A golden-haired woman lying in a ruined hallway where, it seemed, the very walls had melted and flowed. Ilyena, forgive me! It was a despairing cry.

He realizes that if he dies the whole world might die as well, but he still can’t kill another woman. Somehow that seems like a hilarious joke.

Moiraine crawls out from under the wagon, and sees Lan lying on the ground.

He twitched, perhaps trying to find strength to rise, perhaps dying. She forced him out of her mind. He had saved her life so many times that by rights it should have belonged to him, but she had long since done what she could to see that he survived his lone war with the Shadow. Now he must live or die without her.

She can hear Rand laughing, tears streaming down his face and his body twisted in an unnatural position. And then she sees Lanfear standing before the redstone doorway, and is struck by the real life sight of an image that has been in her dreams since she went to Rhuidean. She can see Lanfear turning an angreal bracelet in her hands, and knows that either Rand has an angreal of his own or Lanfear is just toying with him.

Moiraine is the one who put that bracelet there by the doorframe. She climbs up on the wagon carefully, and Lanfear is too engrossed by Rand to notice until Moiraine embraces the True Source. She turns just as Moiraine jumps at her and claws the bracelet out of her hands. The two of them tumble through the doorframe and everything is swallowed in white light.

Rand sees Moiraine’s attack, watches as the white light continually flashes through in the open doorway while the outside crackles with silver and blue lightning. He staggers to his feet, and Lan stumbles by him, trying to get to the door. Rand catches him up in Air, telling him there is nothing he can do.

“I know,” Lan said hopelessly. Held in mid-step, he did not struggle, only stared at the ter’angreal that had swallowed Moiraine. “The Light send me peace, I know.”

The wagons are burning and the doorway itself is smoking, and Rand gets rid of his protective dome, using Air to blow the fumes upwards. When he releases Lan, the Warder says hollowly that he can’t feel Moiraine’s presence anymore.

Then he turns to see Egwene on the ground in Aviendha’s arms, with Mat and Asmodean and some of the Wise Ones coming over to help.

“I feel…” Egwene began weakly, and stopped to swallow. Her face was bloodless pale. “I… hurt.” A tear leaked from one eye.

The Wise Ones tell Rand that Egwene can’t go to Caemlyn with him, and firmly shut down her protests. Aviendha insists that she wasn’t held by Lanfear as long as Egwene and is still well enough to go. Her defiance wavers a little under the Wise Ones’ gaze, but Rand just says “of course.” He tells them that Lanfear and Moiraine are dead, and Egwene begins to cry. Aviendha looks ready to cry too, but Amys, stone faced, tells Rand that he is a fool. He looks away from the accusation in her eyes, well aware that Moiraine is dead because he couldn’t bring himself to kill Lanfear.

Looking around, he curses himself for not being quick enough to prevent so many people from being wounded, and thinks about how there is no Moiraine to heal them. There are Aielmen watching him, though no Maidens, and he sees Dobraine watching him as well. Talmanes, Daerid and Nalesean are watching both Rand and Mat closely, and there are more lining the top of the city wall, all watching silently.

Lan has gone over to Aldieb and is stroking her nose. Rand joins him and tries to apologize for what happened.

“The Wheel weaves.” Lan went to Mandarb, busied himself checking the black stallion’s saddlegirth. “She was a soldier, a warrior in her way as much as I. This could have happened two hundred times these past twenty years. She knew it, and so did I. It was a good day to die.” His voice was as hard as it had ever been, but those cold blue eyes were red-rimmed.

Rand asks Lan to stay, telling him that he hopes they can still be friends and that he needs Lan’s counsel. But Lan explains that Moiraine altered their bond so that it would be passed to another Aes Sedai, and that he can already feel her, and that she can feel him. He has no choice but to go join her.

“If you ever see Nynaeve again, tell her…” For an instant that stone face crumpled in anguish; an instant, then it was granite again. He muttered under his breath, but Rand heard. “A clean wound heals quickest and pains shortest.”

He tells Rand to tell Nynaeve that Lan has found someone else, that he’s gone to be a Green sister’s lover as well as her sword. Rand answers that he’ll do it, but that he doesn’t think Nynaeve will believe him. Lan responds by leaning down from his saddle and grabbing Rand by the shoulder, telling him that they are both alike, that darkness pain and death radiates from them, and that the best gift he could give a girl he loves is to leave her. They give each other the ancient salute and Lan rides off.

Rand considers that whatever spies Rahvin might have in the city would surely report what just happened, and that Rahvin would never expect an attack to come today. Then he chastises himself for not just stopping for a moment to mourn; all those eyes are still on him and he stalks off towards the dockmaster’s hut, slamming the door behind him and shutting out those watching eyes.

“Mourn, burn you!” he growled. “She deserved that much! Don’t you have any feelings left?” But mostly he felt numb. His body hurt, but under it was deadness.

He remembers her letters then, and pulls the one addressed to him out to read it. In the letter, she explains that, if he is reading it, then events have turned out as she hoped. She tells him that ever since Rhuidean she has known that there would be a day when news arrived about Morgase, and that the next day would lead to the docks. There were three possible outcomes from those events—that Lanfear would kill Rand, that she would carry him off and he would end up devoted to her and calling himself Lews Therin, or that she and Lanfear would be gone. She tells him that she couldn’t tell him for the same reason she couldn’t tell Lan.

Even given the choices, I could not be sure which you would pick. Men of the Two Rivers, it seems, retain much of storied Manetheren in them, traits shared with men of the Borderlands. It is said that a Borderlander will take a dagger’s wound to avoid harm to a woman and count it fair trade. I dared not risk that you would place my life above your own, certain that somehow you could sidestep fate. Not a risk, I fear, but a foolish certainty, as today has surely proved…

She warns him to be suspicious of all Aes Sedai, and not just out of fear of the Black Ajah.

We have made the world dance as we sang for three thousand years. That is a difficult habit to break, as I have learned while dancing to your song. You must dance free, and even the best intentioned of my sisters may well try to guide your steps as I once did.

She also warns him to be wary of “Master Jasen Natael,” who is still the same man he always was.

Rand is shocked to realize that she’d known about Asmodean the whole time, and even known why Rand kept him close too. The letter says it will fade after he reads it, and Rand wishes she could have been more direct—explained about Rhuidean and the letter for Thom and why she mentions that she hopes Lan will one day understand, and bless her, for what she did to him.

And she had known what would happen to her, and faced it unflinchingly. He thinks that it should have been his choice, but also that she had died because he could not kill Lanfear. The last words of the letter “You will do well” cut him like a knife.

He’s interrupted by Sulin, who asks him if he’s weeping alone because wetlanders are ashamed to be seen weeping. Rand is surprised to find tears on his cheeks and tries to insist that it’s sweat. Then he tells her that he thought the Maidens abandoned him to go back to the Three-Fold land.

Sulin replies that it is Rand who has abandoned the Maidens, and, laying her spears and buckler out before him, proceeds to break one in half. She reaches for another, and when Rand tries to grab it and asks what she’s doing she puts her foot right on his knuckles.

Will you put us in skirts, and make us marry and tend hearth? Or are we to lie beside your fire and lick your hand when you give us a scrap of meat?” Her muscles tensed, and the spear broke, scoring his palm with splinters.

She’s ready to break the third spear next, but Rand stops her by wrapping her up with Air so that she can’t move. He insists that he thought the Maidens understood, and when she just looks at him, insists that they didn’t say anything when he kept the Maidens out of the battle with Couladin, and reminds her that not everyone fought that day.

Sulin’s eyes widened in incredulity. “You kept us from the dance of spears? We kept you from the dance. You were like a girl newly wed to the spear, ready to rush out and kill Couladin with never a thought for the spear you might take from behind.”

And now they have heard that Rand is going to fight one of the Forsaken, and not a single Maiden has been chosen to go. Rand tries to explain that he can’t bear to see a woman die, that he can’t kill a woman, that he’d rather go up against Rahvin alone than see one of them die. Sulin tells him that’s foolish, everyone needs someone to watch their back. She tells him to release her and they will talk.

She tells him that she forgets that he wasn’t raised Aiel.

“Listen, Rand al’Thor. I am the spear. When a lover came between me and the spear, I chose the spear. Some chose the other way. Some decide they have run with the spears long enough, that they want a husband, a child. I have never wanted anything else. No chief would hesitate to send me wherever the dance is hottest. If I died there, my first-sisters would mourn me, but not a fingernail more than when our first-brother fell. A treekiller who stabbed me to the heart in my sleep would do me more honor than you do. Do you understand now?”

“I understand, but…” He did understand. She did not want him to make her something other than what she was. All he had to do was be willing to watch her die.

He asks what happens if she breaks the third spear, and Sulin responds that if she has no honor in this life, perhaps she will in another. Rand is horrified when he realizes what she means—and points out that she leaves him no choices. He reluctantly agrees that the Maidens will have the same number of representatives as any other society, and is horrified by the look of pleasure that comes over Sulin’s face.

He leaves the hut, only to find a line of Maidens, each with three spears in her hands, stretched from the door back behind the gates of the city. At the front of the line Enaila starts towards Rand, then smiles that same smile of pleasure when she sees Sulin come out behind him. All the other Maidens take on the same expression.

Mat observes that he thought maybe they had all come to kiss away Rand’s miseries, and that if they’re going to go, they should get it over with. It is time to roll the dice.

Rand looks at the smoke still rising from where the red doorframe ter’angreal had been, at the Maidens clustering around Sulin, and thinks that death would be a welcome release from what he has to live with.

 

There are still three more chapters left, and the confrontation with Rahvin is still to come, but I have to say that Chapters 52 and 53 feel like they are the true thematic climax of The Fires of Heaven. Many of the characters (Nynaeve, Mat, and Rand especially) in this book have been occupied with questions about the nature of their destinies. Whether they have any control over the world and circumstances around them. Whether they have control over themselves. Whether they are brave enough to face the path the Wheel has spun out for them, or whether that bravery is really arrogance in disguise, which will lead only to pain and disaster. And in Rand’s case, what toll his prophesied destiny will take on the people around him.

It has been really interesting to watch Nynaeve and Rand both struggle with the consequences of their choices. Rand has watched the Aiel die in battle and has struggled with self-loathing as he learns to use those under his command as means to an end, while Nynaeve has struggled with the smaller and more personal, though still devastating, consequences of her search for Moghedien. Nynaeve’s journey seems to be towards accepting that there will always be risk and loss in any war (a journey more like Perrin’s in the last book) and that she must find the strength to accept that and keep fighting, coming into her own power. It is a very Aes Sedai journey, and we have seen characters like Moiraine and Siuan talk about this phenomenon before.

But while Nynaeve is learning that she can’t abdicate or hide from the fight even though there are often painful consequences and loss, Rand has to learn that even he, the Dragon Reborn and the Car’a’carn, cannot claim the authority of every person and every choice. It is understandable that he feels pain and responsibility for the loss of others. And it is even understandable that he would confuse the fact that, because the ultimate fight is his, every fight is his too. But not only is it impossible for him to take that level of control over everyone, it’s morally objectionable as well.

Rand believes that he has accepted, that he must and will use the Aiel, Mat, and anyone else to achieve his ends. He hates it about himself, but he believes that this is the only way he can do what he must, in order to make it to Tarmon Gai’don and to be prepared to win that final battle. And yet we see so many instances in which he is unable to bring that mindset to bear—and it is usually in selfish moments.

His response to Moiraine’s letter is perhaps the best example of this. When she explains why she didn’t tell him of the future she had seen, she writes:

Even given the choices, I could not be sure which you would pick. And I dared not risk that you would place my life above your own, certain that somehow you could sidestep fate…

She has explained to him that the other options were his death or the enslavement of his mind to Lanfear. And yet when Rand reads these words, he says aloud that it was his choice.

And one has to ask, why? Why does he get the right over this choice which, at best, affects both of them equally. Putting aside the fact that Rand’s death might very well mean the destruction of the entire world, Moiraine was the one who earned this information, even if Rand doesn’t know how, and who made a choice to save his life. Why does Rand believe that he has a right to dominion over that choice?

We’ll circle back to the sexism angle in a second, as well as the effects of the taint, but first I’m going to make things a bit personal. One of the ways that I personally run away from facing painful emotions in my own life (as my therapist is always trying to teach me) is by overthinking everything. If you’re busy over-analyzing a problem from every angle, trying to envision every scenario, plan what you can do, what you should do, what you could have done, there isn’t as much room in your mind to actually feel the pain or fear you’re experiencing. And I think that’s one of the things that Rand is doing here. I mean, we see him say it outright, when he’s speaking to Lan. Thoughts like “I should have” and “if only I was faster” and even “Moraine died because I couldn’t bring myself to kill Lanfear” are actually Rand running away from his grief, and the pain of knowing that this moment was in Moiraine’s hands, not his.

Certainty is less frightening than the unknown, even if the certainty is your own failure. Guilt is less painful than realizing something might  just be outside of your control.

This phenomenon is the same reason that some people take comfort in the phrase “The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills,” while others find it frightening. For some people, like Mat, the idea that the Pattern is dictating at least some of his path makes him feel out of control and helpless. For others, like Moiraine, I think that knowing there is a plan of sorts makes her feel more in control; all is not as chaotic and uncertainty as life feels, and there is a path there for her to walk, as long as she has the knowledge to find it and the strength to follow it. This is what leads her to surrender and “dance to Rand’s song,” and I think even to finding peace in the knowledge of her oncoming death.

So Rand’s challenge, going forward, will be to strike a balance between not shying away from the difficulties and pains of being the Dragon Reborn without overreaching and taking more authority over the future than he is due. He may be the linchpin on whom that future turns, may be the only one who can face the Dark One at the Last Battle, but no war is won with a single soldier, even the war against Darkness itself.

And I think this is what Egwene is driving at, albeit rather clumsily, when she worries that Rand has changed too much and goes on about his “swelled head.” Rand isn’t turning into a selfish Tairen lord who just wants all the pleasures of life and to be considered better than everyone else. But there is a sort of narcissism in this attitude of “the burden is entirely mine, no one can understand or help,” even though it’s a painful, sad kind. I mean, Rand keeps complaining that the Aiel don’t do everything he orders unquestioningly, repeating “I am the Car’a’carn,” over and over even though he knows that’s not what Car’a’carn means.

I also think this is what Aviendha is doing when she refuses to worry about covering up her body around Rand. While there is certainly a point to be made that the Aiel are never interested in compromising to someone else’s cultural sensitivities, the narration we see in Rand’s POV on the subject is much more about his expectation about female “modesty” than it seems to be about his own needs, using such terms as “flaunting herself” when Aviendha has made it very clear that she doesn’t consider there to be anything sexual about being naked around him. It almost feels like she is deliberately reminding him that his opinions and desires about other people’s behaviors aren’t the be all and end all. Like she is challenging him to face that discomfort and see it for what it is.

And then there’s the Maidens. Rand wants to orchestrate events and outcomes  in a way that, personally, pains him less. It’s a relatable impulse, but as Sulin points out, it robs other people of their agency, takes away their ability to make their own choices and find meaning in their own lives. Rand cannot morally say that his pain at Moiraine’s death is greater than her right to fight and die in a war that she’s been fighting much longer than Rand has. He cannot morally say that his pain at watching women die is greater or more important than that woman’s right to exercise control over her own life. And if he does, he reduces her to no more than an abstract concept, an object invested with his feelings, rather than a full human being with needs and emotions of her own.

He might not agree with the Maiden’s worldview, but Sulin has made it very clear what that agency means to them—death is preferable to existing without it. Rand says he understands, but I’m not really sure he does. He just believes that the consequences she threatens are real.

But whether or not Rand actually understands, he has now been forced to accept that his own personal desires (because these are his personal feelings, not his needs as the Dragon Reborn) will not be allowed to trump the right to choice for the women in his life. Not for Moiraine, or the Maidens, or Aviendha. I think this marks an important turning point for him as a character: He is already learning to live with the choices he has to make as the Dragon Reborn, and now he must also learn to live with the choices he cannot make. I think that he will still struggle with the inability to purposefully kill a woman, but he seems to be on a path to learning that he cannot always keep every woman away from danger.

Ever since the first time Rand thought that he couldn’t kill Lanfear because she’s a woman (I believe it was when he had her pinned to the wall during the attack in the Stone of Tear) I’ve suspected that the taint was at least partly to blame, and I think that the events of Chapter 52 bear out that hypothesis. A general reluctance to let women fight or to harm them seems in keeping with a society that doesn’t even allow ladies to wear pants, but Rand’s level of anguish at killing even a Darkfriend or one of the Forsaken in self-defense really surpasses any reasonable level of chivalric intent. Mat sure wouldn’t hesitate to kill Lanfear if he believed he could do it. But when Rand was considering calling down lightning or fire onto Lanfear, the images he sees in his head culminate in Lews Therin’s memory of Ilyena, the wife he murdered while under the influence of taint-induced madness. I don’t think Rand’s the one who couldn’t kill Lanfear even if his life, and the fate of the world, depended on it. I think it’s the Lews Therin personality.

We finally got to see how close that personality is to overwhelming Rand’s own consciousness. We’ve known that it’s something Rand is worried about, but before now it seemed like something he feared but wasn’t certain of. But now we see that Rand feels so close to being subsumed by Lews Therin that he even rejects the knowledge of how to defeat her, lest he walk away from that victory as Lews Therin, with Rand just a voice in that man’s head. And whenever we see Rand consider killing a woman or even sees one harmed, the thought of Ilyena always comes up. Every time.

The narration in this section also mentions that Rand is aware that the taint is making him angrier, which again confirms a suspicion I’ve had for a while. I wonder if we’re meant to feel like the effects of the taint snuck up on Rand. I’ve spent so long trying to pick out hints from his POV and all of a sudden we’re getting a lot of real confirmation. It makes me very curious how the journey is going to unfold, given that Rand is this far gone already and there are so many books left to go. Maybe they’ll find a cure soon, or at least a way of slowing Rand’s degeneration.

You know I haven’t spent that much time thinking about what it must feel like to have your mind slowly disintegrating under the touch of an evil miasma, as Rand describes it. And even now that I’m taking a moment, I can’t really imagine what it would feel like. Terrifying, of course, and it makes me even more sympathetic to the ways Rand is grasping for aspects of control.

I’m not letting him, or Jordan, off the hook entirely though. There are a couple of sexist moments that don’t allow me to place all of the blame on Lews Therin, such as Moiraine’s assertion that Rand wouldn’t let her sacrifice herself because of cultural Manetheren stuff.

Men of the Two Rivers, it seems, retain much of storied Manetheren in them, traits shared with men of the Borderlands. It is said that a Borderlander will take a dagger’s wound to avoid harm to a woman and count it fair trade.

I’m not sure if she’s saying that this is a cultural attitude that has been passed down even though the people of the Two Rivers don’t even remember that Manetheren existed, or if she’s suggesting that this is some inherent biological quality like hard-headedness is said to be. Either way, Moiraine sees a reason for Rand to behave this way without any outside personalities weighing in. And she asserts that Borderland men behave this way as well.

Lan certainly does. I appreciate how much he has been through as well, but he is also pretty quick to take away agency from women in order to spare himself pain. This isn’t the first time he’s decided what is best for Nynaeve—he clearly wants to be with her and believes it is impossible, but rather than giving her truth and letting her deal with that as she chooses, he tells Rand to lie to her. Firstly, I think that it’s a mistake for him to assume that she’d find it easier to live with him abandoning her than with the truth; I think Lan is hurting about being denied the ability to be with the one he loves and is treating that like the worst option. And secondly, he is treating Nynaeve like she cannot fully understand the situation and make her own rational choices about it. Just as Rand would do with the Maidens and with Moiraine, if he could, Lan is taking away Nynaeve’s agency. He genuinely hopes to spare her some pain, but in the process he reduces her. He treats her like someone who cannot handle pain because he doesn’t like the idea of her suffering. He even goes so far as to advise Rand to treat any woman he cares about the same way.

I really hate that trope, where the hero pushes his lady love away because oh woe, his suffering is just so great and he’s poison and she’s better off without him so he’ll just treat her badly and lie to her because it’s “for her own good.” Within the universe itself I have a lot of sympathy for how Lan feels, but I think it’s a tired, badly-gendered trope and people should stop using it.

(I do think there is one other, more interesting, factor at play here in regards to how Lan treats both Nynaeve and his own existence, but I’ve decided to save it for a separate essay, so you will all have to wait a few weeks for it.)

I find it fascinating that the moment before Lanfear decides to torture Rand to death and the moment Lan decides to break Nynaeve‘s heart because the wound will be “cleaner,” are described in almost exactly the same way.

Right after Rand says that he’d rather die than love one of the Forsaken:

Something that might have been anguish crossed her face; then it was a marble mask once more. “If you are not mine,” she said coldly, “then you are dead.”

And when Lan starts to bring up Rand running into Nynaeve again:

For an instant that stone face crumpled in anguish; an instant, then it was granite again. He muttered under his breath, but Rand heard. “A clean wound heals quickest and pains shortest.”

Obviously these two examples differ wildly in both degree and intent, but you can still see the way that both characters are in pain, and are making a choice based more (or entirely, in Lanfear’s case) on their own emotions than those of the person they profess to love. Jordan emphasizes this in the language, the moment of anguish on a face made of stone, then wiped away again into a cold mask.

And while we’re on the subject of sexism, can I just say… Jordan is seriously obsessed with butts. The way Egwene and Aviendha are always smacking or jabbing Rand’s backside and he’s always doing it back is just… I want to say kinky, but it’s too childish for that. They’re acting like a bunch of immature teenagers, while providing the author with a bunch of moments to unnecessarily remind us, again, of the shape of Aviendha’s body. You know, the one she’s apparently flaunting all the time.

Jordan also evokes the specter of Colavaere’s backside when Aviendha admits that she won’t be able to sit down comfortably and I just… why does every single society choose to wallop grown people on their asses in this world? No one is turning Maringil or High Lord Meilan over and whipping their buts until they have to stay in their chambers for a whole day, or threatening them with rape. And as horrific as Rand’s experience with Lanfear was, I noticed that he got to keep his clothes on.

But not everything about the gendered dynamics in these chapters are something to complain about. I’m actually fascinated by how well Lanfear is able to interact with Rand’s channeling and weaves, and I can’t wait until our heroes are a little farther along in their journey and can start working together like the Aes Sedai of old. Give me Rand channeling with Aviendha or Elayne. Give me Rand channeling with Nynaeve! I can’t wait for that.

I also realize that I missed a huge potential plot hole. When Asmodean is testing the limits of his ability to touch saidin, Rand wishes he could see the shield Lanfear put around him. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me until now, but shouldn’t Moiraine and Egwene and Aviendha (as well as any of the Wise Ones who can channel) be able to see that shield? I suppose it’s possible that Lanfear knows some way to make weaves invisible to everyone, but maybe that’s how Moiraine found out who Asmodean is and the reason she started listening in on Rand’s conversations with him. One would think that Rand would have at least wondered if, or worried that, the female channelers would realize that there was a shield of saidar around his bard and ask him about it.

There’s also a little throwaway line about Asmodean telling Rand that not sweating is a trick of the mind, not the power, but that seems to go against what we saw from Siuan during her interview with Sheriam and co, where she envied the women their ability to not sweat.

Also,  sweating is actually an important part of cooling the body down when it’s hot, and making yourself not sweat for long periods of time is probably not good for one’s body, however badass it makes you look.

Lanfear looked pretty badass when she blew up the wagon and waved Kadere’s skin around. Gross, but badass. Or at least scary as all get out. I don’t really have much to say about Kadere, who is just a plot device for the over-the-top murder of Isendre and then for this moment with Lanfear. But I was interested in the way he called Lanfear Great Mistress. The term “great” is a popular one with Darkfriends, apparently. They call the Dark One “The Great Lord of the Dark” but I can’t remember if we’ve encountered anyone using the title for one of the male Forsaken yet. Would a lower-ranking Darkfriend call Rahvin or Sammael “Great Master” perhaps?

And speaking of questions I’m not sure have been answered, I’m very curious about what Amys meant when she called Rand a fool after he informed them that Lanfear and Moiraine are dead. I mean, I know why she thinks he’s a fool in general, but what about this moment makes her say it. She can’t know what Rand is thinking, or that he was physically capable of killing Lanfear if only he could bring himself to do so. Does she know something we don’t know? Or is she just annoyed with the way he delivered the news of Moiraine’s death?

Or apparent death, anyway. There’s no body after all, and that doorway did lead somewhere else. Perhaps they were able to land on the other side before the thing went up in sparks and smoke. Stranger things have happened, and if this is Moiraine’s big Gandalf moment, we can’t give up hope that maybe she’ll smite her enemy on the mountainside and return even stronger than she was when she left.

I think it’s going to be a long time though, if she does come back. And maybe almost as long until we find out what she wrote in that letter to Thom.

We are so close to the end of this book, my friends! Next week we will cover Chapter 54, in which Rand and his Aiel go to Caemlyn, and Nynaeve has a final reckoning with Tel’aran’rhiod and her own fears. Until then, I’m going to think about grief and fear, and how the hardest things in life are almost always the ones that feel the most out of your control.

Sylas K Barrett would love it if the arrival of Aiel Maidens in Westlands started a trend of more ladies wearing pants. That is all.

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