Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: Rand Issues an Amnesty in Robert Jordan’s The Fires of Heaven (Part 35)

Friends. Friends! We did it. Part 35 of Reading The Wheel of Time. Chapter 56 of The Fires of Heaven is finally here. It’s been an interesting chapter to recap. When I read it, I actually didn’t realize that it’s so short—not that much really happens in it. And yet it feels less like a conclusion than some of the previous books’ final chapters did, and more like the promise of what’s to come. It’s a bit like the first five books in the series have been learning to climb a mountain, and now we’ve reached the peak and are looking out over the rest of the range we have to traverse.

I wonder if that is how Rand feels, too. So much of his journey so far has just been staying alive long enough to accept his identity, and then he had to detour away from strictly Dragoning in order to do all the Aiel stuff. Now he’s back in the thick of it, playing Daes Dae’mar, dealing with courts, nobles, and the representatives of rulers. What he’s doing now feels like it’s going to be a lot of what’s to come.

But I’ll save the rest of those thoughts for after the recap. Come weary traveler, let’s take a moment with Rand to just stand in a window and muse on everything that has happened.

Chapter 56 opens with Rand standing in a tall window in the Grand Hall of the palace, looking down at Aviendha, Mat, and Asmodean below in the garden. He thinks about how he’d had to forbid Aviendha from going to hunt Trollocs and how Mat is probably still trying to find out how easy it will be to slip out of the city. He wonders if Asmodean has any suspicion about what happened to him; he should have no memory of his death, but Rand doesn’t know what one of the Forsaken might be able to reason out.

He’s interrupted by Enaila and Somara, who seem unimpressed by the columned space or the colored glass windows depicting the white lion and images of the early queens of Andor. He asks if there’s any news from Bael, and is informed that the Aiel are still hunting Trollocs. The city gates are held and Enaila doesn’t believe any of them will escape, although some of the Myrddraal might. Most of the cityfolk are still hiding, although some are aiding the Aiel. Somara adds that they have brought him the same soup that Lamelle used to make him.

Rand asks hopefully if any of the servants have come back, but there is no such luck, and the women are scornful of any who would spend their whole life in servitude. Rand isn’t encouraged by the smell of the soup, but he is spared having to try it by the arrival of a newcomer.

Slender and only a hand taller than Enaila, he had a hooked beak of a nose and dark tilted eyes. Gray streaked his black hair and a thick mustache like down-curved horns around his wide mouth. He paused to make a leg and bow slightly, handling the curved sword at his hip gracefully despite the fact that incongruously he carried two silver goblets in one hand and a sealed pottery jar in the other.

He apologizes for intruding, remarking that there was no one to announce him, and introduces himself as Davram Bashere, Marshal-General of Saldaea, come to speak to the Lord Dragon. Rand confirms that he is the Dragon Reborn, and expresses surprise at finding a Saldaean lord in Caemlyn. Bashere answers that he was sent to speak to Morgase, but was put off by Lord Gaebril’s toadies. He doesn’t seem to care much about Gaebril, and when he learns that Gaebril killed Morgase and then Rand killed Gaebril, he asks if he should hail him as King Rand.

Rand leaned forward angrily. “Andor has always had a queen, and it still does. Elayne was Daughter-Heir. With her mother dead, she is queen. Maybe she has to be crowned first—I don’t know the law—but she is queen as far as I am concerned. I am the Dragon Reborn. That is as much as I want, and more. What is it you want of me, Lord Bashere?”

Bashere appears completely unaffected by Rand’s temper, and explains that the White Tower has allowed Mazrim Taim to escape. Queen Tenobia, not wanting any more trouble for Saldaea, sent Bashere to hunt him down and kill him. He promises that he did not bring a foreign army to Andor, and that he left all but ten of his men at the border. When Rand hesitates, Bashere assures him that that he has no objection to Rand using Aiel to hunt Taim instead.

Rand hadn’t intended to reveal this part of his plan so soon, but decides it may as well be now and explains to Bashere that he is issuing an amnesty: Any man who can channel can come to Rand to learn and be protected. Rand reminds Bashere that the Last Battle is coming—there may not even be time for any of them to go mad, and he won’t waste any channeler regardless of the risk.

“When the Trollocs came out of the Blight in the Trolloc Wars, they marched with Dreadlords, men and women who wielded the Power for the Shadow. We will face that again at Tarmon Gai’don. I don’t know how many Aes Sedai will be at my side, but I won’t turn away any man who channels if he will march with me. Mazrim Taim is mine, Lord Bashere, not yours.”

Bashere asks, flatly, if Rand intends to conquer the world with his Aiel and his army of men who can channel, and Rand responds that he welcomes any ruler who wants to be an ally to him, but that so far all he’s seen is maneuvering for power and outright hostility. He lists all the conflicts going on, including the threat of the Seanchan, and states firmly that if the only way to ensure that they have time to prepare for Tarmon Gai’don is to impose peace and order by force, then he will do so.

Bashere fills the two goblets he brought with wine, and gives one to Enaila, who carries it up to Rand. He tells Rand that he has read the Karaethon Cycle, as has Queen Tenobia. He suspects that Kandor, Arafel, and Shienar will come to Rand, since they live with the constant threat of the Blight to remind them of the peril of the Dark One, though of course he can’t speak for them. He can’t speak for Saldaea either, but he believes that, once he informs his Queen of the situation, Queen Tenobia will declare that she stands with the Dragon Reborn. In the meantime, he offers his service, and that of his men.

Rand thinks of Sammael in Illian, and of the Seanchan plotting their return.

“Peace is far off yet,” he said softly. “It will be blood and death for some time to come.”

“It always is,” Bashere replied quietly, and Rand did not know which statement he was speaking to. Perhaps both.

Meanwhile, Asmodean wanders away from Mat and Aviendha, who aren’t even listening to him play. He doesn’t know exactly what happened that morning, nor does he want to know why so many Aiel expressed surprise in seeing him alive.

There was a long gash down the wall in front of him. He knew what made that sharp edge, that surface as slick as ice, smoother than any hand could have polished in a hundred years.

He wonders if being reborn in such a way makes him a new man, but doubts it. Immortality, the gift of the Dark One, is gone now, and sometimes he imagines he can feel time pulling him towards a death he never thought he’d have to meet. He’s glad Lanfear is dead, after what she did to him, and thinks that he’ll laugh every time one of the others dies. Meanwhile, he’s still clinging to that tuft of grass on the cliff’s edge.

He pulled open a small door, intending to find his way to the pantry. There should be some decent wine. One step, and he stopped, the blood draining from his face. “You? No!” The word still hung in the air when death took him.

Morgase and her small retinue ride through the forest in Altara. She considers Tallanvor, riding some way ahead of her, remembering the way he had looked at and spoke to her when he gave her the riding dress he’d acquired to replace the disguise she fled the palace in. Avoiding any titles had been Morgase’s idea, but there is “something disturbing” in Tallanvor’s eyes when he calls her Morgase.

Morgase is also frustrated that Gareth Bryne has gone off chasing barn burners when she needs him, but tells herself firmly that she will do just as well without him. Never mind that her army hasn’t grown at all since she left Caemlyn—everyone has heard about the shady doings in the capital, and Morgase doubts that they’d be any more interested in rallying to their rightful ruler even if they had realized who she actually is.

So here she rode through Altara, keeping to forest as much as possible because there seemed to be parties of armed men everywhere, rode through the forest with a scar-faced street tough, a besotted refugee Cairhienin noblewoman, a stout innkeeper who could hardly keep from kneeling whenever she glanced at him, and a young soldier who sometimes looked at her as though she had on one of those dresses she had worn for Gaebril. And Lini, of course. There was no forgetting Lini.

As though the thought summoned her, Lini rides closer and advises Morgase to keep her eye on Tallanvor, warning that a “young lion charges quickest, and when you least expect it.” Morgase is surprised that Lini believes the man to be dangerous, but it soon becomes clear that Lini is speaking of romance and attraction, at which Morgase bristles. Yes, she can see that Tallanvor is handsome, but he is young and also her subject; Morgase tells herself firmly that looking at him as a man, rather than a subject and a soldier, is the last thing she needs.

She tells Lini to hold her tongue and not put any ideas into the young man’s head. Tallanvor and Gill come over, and Tallanvor tells Morgase that there are farms up ahead, but assures her that it’s unlikely that she’ll be recognized. He outlines the rest of their trip to the ferry, which will take them to the Amadician side of the river before dark. He asks Morgase if she’s sure she wants to do this, and for a moment Morgase is stuck on the way he says her name, then pushes the thought aside, telling him firmly that she has made up her mind and that she expects him not to question her. Then she kicks her horse ahead, leaving him to catch up.

She would find her allies where she found them. She would have her throne back, and woe to Gaebril or any man who thought he could sit on it in her place.

 

I have a confession to make. I’ve been so focused on how healthily (or unhealthily) Rand has been handling his reaction to Morgase’s supposed death that I almost kind of… forgot that she’s not really dead. Emotionally, at least. Rand has been absolutely destroying himself over the idea that Rahvin murdered Morgase—wallowing in guilt, convinced that Elayne will hate him forever, and certain that it’s exactly what he deserves—and I’ve been right there beside him. I’ve been engaging in all these deep ruminations about the weight Rand carries as the Dragon Reborn, how much responsibility he can morally and feasibly take on, and the way he’s been treating his existence as a catalyst for the reemergence of the Forsaken and the coming of Tarmon Gai’don rather than the Pattern’s answer to these events. All of these are important themes, of course, and Rand has many reasons to be struggling, particularly after Moiraine’s death. But when it comes to Morgase… well. Even if I agreed with Rand that he’s responsible for her death and that Elayne will blame him for not going after Rahvin before anything else, it is in many ways a moot point! Morgase’s death never happened.

And once again Jordan strikes with that beautiful dramatic irony. Not only is Morgase alive and well, but if she only knew what was going on back in Caemlyn, she could just turn around and ride right back to Andor and resume her place on the throne. Rand would be able to tell her Gaebril’s true identity, and maybe even guess at the Compulsion that she was under, which would certainly clear up a lot for Morgase. It really isn’t her fault she “let” all of this happen.

But of course she doesn’t know that Rand has killed Gaebril and claimed the throne of Andor for Elayne, and I imagine it will be some time until the truth comes out. Perhaps Morgase will end up going into hiding, or there will be some other event that will keep the news of Rand’s takeover of Andor from her. Or maybe she’ll hear about it but somehow be prevented from reaching him, and everyone will be carrying on assuming her dead.

The possibilities for calamity even now that Rahvin is gone are kind of endless. And that makes me very worried for Morgase.

I can’t quite tell if Lini’s instincts about Tallanvor are right or not. His behavior is described in the narration as intense and “disturbing.” Plus, he expressed a lot of anger and even hostility towards Morgase the last time we saw them, so my brain was going more in that kind of direction.

I suppose this all must be an odd experience for the man. Until recently he had a very chivalric, knightly sort of view of his Queen, and clearly saw her as flawless and infallible. Then Gaebril arrived and he watched her “let” the man undermine her authority and bring harm to the kingdom of Andor. He kept his loyalty, but he also clearly has a lot of strong feelings about how Morgase has apparently behaved. And now he is supposed to address her by her first name and travel cross country through the backwoods with her—so he’s seeing her as a real person for the first time. If his anger towards her ebbs over time, seeing her as a human rather than a figure of worship could very well turn into romantic feelings. But I wouldn’t expect it to happen so soon.

Lini might be making the same deductions, I suppose, if for no other reason than to have some narrative foreshadowing for the reader’s benefit. Or perhaps she’s just trying to direct Morgase’s focus towards something pleasant. After all, she believes that Morgase’s mistakes with Gaebril were due to ordinary romantic infatuation, and might believe that Morgase is still struggling with the aftermath of having her heart broken, so to speak. That would be a very motherly move on Lini’s part, which makes sense, as she is the person who basically raised both Elayne and Morgase. And Lini can’t build an army for Morgase or get involved in the politics of reconnecting to the nobility, so she might feel her energies are more helpful when focused on this.

Of course, there’s also the irony that Rand only came after Rahvin when he did because Morgase escaped—that disappearance is what created the rumors of her death. If Morgase was still under Rahvin’s control then Rand might not have gotten to Rahvin for a while yet. So even though it would be better for Rand if Morgase was still in the palace right now, events almost had to play out the way they did.

I think. Kind of made myself dizzy chasing that particularly circuitous thread of the Pattern.

Speaking of which, I was really not expecting Asmodean to just get offed like that! When we covered Chapter 54 I made a comment about not believing that the story would have Mat and Aviendha actually die so close after Moiraine’s (she might also come back, Gandalf-style, at some point, but you know what I mean) death. But Jordan got me with that double-bluff. I had definitely assumed that everyone’s lives were safe at this point. That’ll teach me to get too comfy.

I have to say, I’m kind of disappointed to lose Asmodean so early. I mean, he’s been with us for a book and a half, but still. I really enjoyed watching his banter with Rand, especially when he would choose songs to match, soothe, or antagonize Rand’s moods, like Rand’s own personal soundtrack following him around. Plus it was a really interesting game trying to figure out if anyone might have guessed that there was something more to “Natael” than being a self-absorbed bard.

I wonder who it was who killed him. One of the other Forsaken, most likely, or at least an agent of theirs. They all love to linger around waiting for another one of their number to make a mistake, and Rand being distracted with killing Rahvin and settling things in Caemlyn is a great opportunity for them. Plus Lanfear told them all that he abandoned the Dark One and went over to Rand’s side, so you know they must all have been especially keen to get at the apparent traitor.

On the other hand, you would think that one of the Forsaken might want to question Asmodean, to find out what they could about Rand, and about what Asmodean may have told Rand about them. Plus most of them are super into the whole revenge torture thing. So maybe I’m jumping to conclusions; there may be someone else we haven’t met yet, or who we don’t know has a connection to Asmodean, who will eventually be revealed as the killer. Like… Slayer/Luc maybe? There is still a lot going on with that guy we don’t know about.

But what I’m actually more curious about is how Rand will take Asmodean’s murder. Obviously there’s not going to be any mourning from Rand, possibly not even disappointment at losing his teacher. But this killing took place right under Rand’s nose, so to speak, not far from where Aviendha and Mat were hanging out. If Rand finds the body he’s going to have even more questions than I do. And if the body is taken away, then he’s going to be wondering how Asmodean could have escaped. Either way, not a great situation for Rand.

It’s also interesting that Asmodean wanted to go with Rand, and was even willing to risk being killed in the fighting, because he truly believed that acting loyal to Rand was the best chance for his survival. But I have to wonder if the killer would have found him anywhere, or if this was a crime of opportunity. What if the killer was in Caemlyn for some other reason and Asmodean just happened to stumble upon them getting up to some kind of mischief? That would be a completely different, and very interesting, reveal.

In any case, I’m disappointed to lose Asmodean but am very excited to be meeting Davram Bashere! He seems cool, very much a Lan type. He’ll probably end up being Rand’s replacement Lan too—a talented general who will understand all the situations and politics that the Aiel chieftains won’t. And eventually (someday, hopefully) we’ll see Perrin again. When he is reunited with Rand he’ll get to meet his father in law in a particularly surprising way. And also in a hilarious way, for us the readers, anyway. Not so much for Perrin, I expect.

Not that I think General Bashere should have many objections to his rebellious daughter being married to a ta’veren friend of the Dragon Reborn. Who also might be lord of the Two Rivers now. And no, I’m not bitter at all about not seeing Perrin for an entire book, why do you ask?

But I’ve been ignoring what might be the biggest reveal of all this chapter, which is Rand’s announcement that he’s pardoning and collecting male channelers! It kind of had to be coming, if you think about it, but I actually hadn’t thought about it much. The argument that men who begin learning to channel now might not even have time to go mad before Tarmon Gai’don is a good one, as is the argument that men and women are stronger when channeling together. The Forsaken will certainly work together against the forces of the Light—basically the only time they’ll work together—so it makes sense for Rand to try to gather that same strength as much as he can.

He might even get a pretty impressive response. Plenty of men who can channel may be in denial or panic when they first realize it, but given their options—gentling, accidentally killing themselves before they have a chance to go mad, or avoiding touching the True Source as long as they can and then ultimately going mad and harming others—the idea of being trained by the Dragon Reborn and fighting in Tarmon Gai’don might not look like such a bad choice. Still terrifying, but it would give purpose to people who otherwise have none. It’s kind of like how when male Aiel realize that they can touch the True Source, they go into the Blight to fight. If you’re doomed anyway, why not go down trying to take out the source of that doom, and of all other evil to boot.

Perhaps that’s the reason, or at least one of the reasons, why Rand established his little tradesman’s school in Cairhien. He might have been looking into how to put something like that together for the male channelers he hopes to recruit, and how to become a teacher himself. I wonder if he was counting on Asmodean’s assistance with that. But Mazrim Taim was doing a fair amount of intense channeling before he was caught, so if Rand can find him he can probably have someone to help in the teaching department. Logain too, if Nynaeve can figure out how to heal him.

I’m very curious to learn more about Taim and Logain. I want to know more about where they come from, and what motivated them to do what they did. Also, what brought them to declaring themselves the Dragon Reborn. Did either or both actually believe that they were the Dragon? Or were they simply hungry for power, or trying to give some kind of meaning to the knowledge that they were destined to have their mind destroyed by the taint. Perhaps they merely thought it best to get glory, and all the pleasure that comes with it, while they had the chance.

It makes you wonder if there are other powerful male channelers out there somewhere who didn’t want to be taken for the Dragon Reborn, living in secret and trying not to channel accidentally. I wonder how much it would delay the inevitable if you were able to really hold off from ever touching the True Source. I know it’s difficult for channelers to resist, but surely it’s possible. And if women can develop a block that stops them from channeling, then it must happen to men too, right? Unless the taint has some effect on the connection itself, which is also possible. Although I don’t think we have seen Rand have any awareness of the corruption except when he’s actively reaching for saidin.

And that’s it, my dear fellow travelers. We are closing the book, literally and figuratively, on Rand and his struggles, and turning our attention back in time, to a time when the Aiel War had just ended, Gitara Moroso made the Foretelling that set the direction of Moiraine and Siuan’s lives, and Lan had never even considered the possibility that he might end up a Warder some day. And stay tuned for some bonus essays coming this week and next!

Until then, I wish you well, and may you always walk in the Light.

Sylas K Barrett cannot wait to read more about Lan and Moiraine’s meeting, you all have no idea.

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