Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: A Hook and a Wish in Robert Jordan’s New Spring (Part One)

Today in Reading The Wheel of Time, it’s the first two chapters of New Spring! As expected, starting the prequel novel has been an absolute delight.

I adore Lan and Moiraine, and seeing them like this feels like discovering that an actor you love was in some movie years before the one that made them famous. I just keep squealing to myself that “they’re babies” like some fanboy on tumblr. But they are babies, is the thing, and it’s fascinating seeing them in this context. More grown up and experienced than the Emond’s Fielders were when we first met them, of course. But struggling with some of the same things. Moiraine with her temper, for example. Or Lan with encountering people and customs that don’t meet his personal standards. We already know some of the story we’re about to read, and we already know the kind of people they are, but there is still something very exciting about seeing them in this state. As Doctor Who once put it, they aren’t done yet.

New Spring opens with Lan contemplating a cold, snowy night camp and considering the dangers of fighting Aiel, both in daylight and in the night. He’s making a round of the camp, trudging through the snow to check on the sentries  at their posts. As he walks, he rests his hand on the hilt of his sword, made long before the Breaking of the World. The blade that had once been the sword of the Malkier kings.

He comes upon the next sentry, a Domani who Lan recognizes though he can’t make out his face behind his helmet. The man is asleep on a tree, and he starts awake and insists that he was only resting for a moment. Lan suggests that he might be better off without the temptation of the tree so near.

The sentry takes up a better pose, peering into the darkness and shifting his feet occasionally to stave off frostbite, and Lan thinks about the rumors that Aes Sedai are offering Healing somewhere off closer to the river. But it’s best to avoid Aes Sedai unless absolutely necessary.

Years later you could find one of them had tied strings to you just in case she might have need. Aes Sedai thought far ahead, and seldom seemed to care who they used in their schemes or how. That was one reason Lan avoided them.

Moving on, Lan wonders how long the sentry’s energy will last. Every man under his command is exhausted from battle, and there has been little time for rest the past few days. He finds more men asleep on guard, finally coming across an old campaigner named Jaim who is asleep standing up with his eyes open. Lan threatens to tell Jaim’s friends if he’s caught sleeping again, which has Jaim hastily promising that he won’t be.

Lan finds himself chuckling as he continues his rounds. There’s no point in worrying about things he can’t change, be it men drowsing at their posts or death itself. Then he raises his voice, calling out to his friend Bukama to ask why he’s been following him. Most people would not have noticed the faint sound of Bukama’s footsteps in the snow, but he was one of Lan’s teachers, and had taught him to always be aware of his surroundings.

Bukama emerges from the trees, complaining that he was watching Lan’s back and accusing him of not taking enough care not to have his throat slit in the dark by one “of these black-veiled Aiel Darkfriends.”

Lan notes that Bukama’s Malkieri helmet doesn’t bear a crest, and wishes that the man would care a little more about his rights. Bukama is one of the twenty men who carried Lan to safety as an infant when Malkier fell, and one of only five who survived the journey. Those five raised and trained Lan, and Bukama is now the only one left alive. Lan notes the man’s strong body and bearing, and the braided leather cord that holds his hair back.

Few men still wore the hadori. Lan did. He would die wearing it, and go into the ground wearing that and nothing else. If there was anyone to bury him where he died. He glanced north, toward his distant home. Most people would have thought it a strange place to call home, but he had felt the pull of it ever since he came south.

Lan asks if Bukama really still believes that the Aiel are pledged to the Dark One. He himself only came to this fight because he believed that; the Aiel had certainly seemed like a horde of Darkfriends when they suddenly spilled over the Spine of the World and burned the great city and ravaged the nation of Cairhien. In the two years since they’ve fought their way through Tear and then Andor before reaching the plains outside of Tar Valon.

There is no memory of the Aiel leaving the Waste, unless the Aes Sedai have some secret record lost to the rest of the world. And everyone can see the Dark One’s hand in the Breaking of the World, the Trolloc Wars, and the War of a Hundred Years that had ended Hawkwing’s empire and his life. Now almost exactly a thousand years later the Aiel came, and it seems like it must be some kind of pattern. Lan had come South because he believed the Dark One was directing this attack. He no longer believes that, but he has given his word to stay until the end, and Bukama is the one who taught him that a man’s word should be as good as an oath sworn before the Light.

They’re starting through the snow again when the sound of a horse brings them up sharply. The Aiel don’t ride, so Lan knows that this lone horseman must be a messenger, and probably not bringing good news. He quickly sees that the horse and rider are Tairen, recognizing the style of helm and also the scent of roses that the wind carries before him “and only Tairens were fool enough to wear scent, as if the Aiel had no noses.”

The messenger, a low ranking officer, delivers his message curtly, reporting that Lord Emares and his armsmen are following a group of Aiel who, strangely enough, are heading east away from the river. Lord Emares wants Lan to place an anvil on the ridgeline called the Hook, so that they can trap the Aiel between a hammer and anvil.

Lan’s mouth tightened. Some of these southlanders had peculiar notions of polite behavior. Not dismounting before he spoke, not naming himself. As a guest, he should have named himself first. Now Lan could not without sounding boastful. The fellow had failed even to offer his lord’s compliments or good wishes.

Lan also feels like the man had implied that they did not know that east would be away from the river, though he supposes that could be a figure of speech. He tells the man that he and his men will be at the Hook by first light, and sends Bukama to wake the men. He’s further angered when the messenger instructs him to ride hard and implies Lord Emares’ displeasure.

Lan forms an image of a flame in his mind, and feeds his emotions into it.

After years of practice, achieving ko’di, the oneness, needed less than a heartbeat. Thought and his own body grew distant, but in this state he became one with the ground beneath his feet, one with the night, with the sword he would not use on this mannerless fool.

He tells the messenger that he always does what he says he will do, and holds onto the ko’di for a moment after the man has ridden off, to be sure that his emotions are under control. Then he returns to the camp, which is bustling with the activity of preparing to ride out. They are mostly Saldaeans and Kandori, and some Domani; some Malkieri had come south but Lan refuses to lead them. Bukama rides with him, but Lan is not his leader.

Lan’s half-trained war horse, Cat Dancer, is brought to him, and Lan checks the girth before taking the horse’s reins. Bukama grumbles about the possibility of Emares being late before Lan gives the order to mount.

Lan keeps a careful eye on the rolling plain with its occasional copse of trees, wary of Aiel ambushes, but they make it to the Hook, a treeless crest only about forty feet high, without incident. Lan arranges his men and notes the White Tower in the distance, as well as the monstrous bulk of Dragonmount.

Higher above the clouds than most mountains were below, its broken peak always emitted a streamer of smoke. A symbol of hope and despair. A mountain of prophecy. Glancing at it, Bukama made another sign against evil. No one wanted that prophecy fulfilled. But it would be, of course, one day.

Lan’s men drive their spears into the ground and ready their bows and arrows, while Lan considers how the Aiel will attack, the various ways the battle might go, and what will happen if Emares is late.

The Aiel arrive just before the sun, running through the snow in a column. Lan uses a Cairhienin-made looking glass to observe them as they make their way closer, apparently unfazed by the horsemen waiting on the ridge. Trumpets sound from the west, somewhere near the river, as more and more Aiel come out of the trees. Lan realizes that either someone has miscounted, or the original company of Aiel has been joined by others.

“Embrace death,” Bukama muttered, sounding like cold steel, and Lan heard other Borderlanders echo the words. He merely thought them; it was enough. Death came for every man eventually, and seldom where or when he expected. Of course, some men died in their beds, but from boyhood Lan had known he would not.

The last of the Aiel emerge out of the trees, over two thousand of them. It’s easily enough to overrun Lan’s forces and also deal with Emares, but Lan gave his word to be there so he holds his ground, knowing that if Emares arrives the combined force of the hammer and anvil might be enough to allow them to get away from the Aiel. Then a leader raises his spear and brings it down, bringing the column to a halt. The rear half turn to face back towards the trees, and Lan assumes they are aware of Emares’s attack.

The other Aiel seem to be shading their eyes to look at the horsemen on the ridge, though Lan can’t think that they can see much. Then a man in the front raises his spear and all the others do the same, the ones in the back turning to face forward again. The spears come down, and the Aiel shout “Aan’allein!”

Lan is surprised to hear them speaking the Old Tongue, and though he translates the word to mean “One Man Alone” he can’t think of what it might mean. Then the Aiel column starts moving again, turning north to go around the ridge. Lan is astonished, and some of the soldiers express disappointment, but he decides to wait and have a “polite” talk with Emares.

He also wants to know what the trumpets meant, and has a feeling that this day will have more strangeness to offer him.

Meanwhile, Moiraine and Siuan stand at attention in the Amyrlin’s sitting room. There is a fire in the hearth on the other end of the room, but where the two Accepted are standing they are hit with icy drafts from the windows behind them. Moiraine is freezing and trying to control shivering, but she and Siuan were told by the Amyrlin to stand there and not bother anyone, so the two Accepted are doing just that. Worse than the cold, though, is the smell of smoke from the villages around Tar Valon being burned.

She wanted to know how the battle was going. She had a right to know. Her uncle had started this war. She certainly did not excuse the Aiel in the slightest for the destruction they had brought to Cairhien, city and nation, but she knew where the ultimate blame lay.

Since the Aiel arrived, however, Accepted have been confined to the Tower grounds, and any time Moiraine has asked for news she has been admonished for getting distracted from her studies. She knows she can’t be involved in what’s going on, but she wants to be.

She notes that the two Aes Sedai in the room, with their serene and ageless faces, don’t seem troubled either by the cold or the smoke. Even though Tamra and Gitara have only napped since the fighting began, neither seems tired, and of course the cold and heat don’t touch sisters the way they do other people; Moiraine can’t work out how the trick of ignoring it works, but she knows that it doesn’t involve the One Power.

Moiraine studies Tamra, the Amyrlin Seat, and Gitara, her Keeper of Chronicles. She thinks about the power these women wield, about the just and kind nature of Tamra and the flamboyant personality of Gitara. She also reflects on the rumors that Gitara is over three hundred years old, and the fact that she has the Foretelling, the Talent of speaking the future.

There has been gossip among the Accepted that Gitara has had more than one Foretelling in the last few months, that the army around Tar Valon had been in place to meet the Aiel attack because of her. None of them know the truth of such rumors, but Moiraine hopes that one day she’ll be present when Gitara has a Foretelling.

It occurs to Moiraine that Gitara has been working on the same letter for hours now, and that Tamra hasn’t turned a page of her book in about the same amount of time. She wonders what has the Aes Sedai so worried and preoccupied, and begins trying to reason it out, turning over the various possibilities to do with the battle and wondering if Gitara had a Foretelling that something would happen on the third day. She catches Siuan watching her, grinning. She whispers that they will find out when they find out, and her infectious smile quickly has Moiraine grinning as well.

Siuan has the gift of making Moiraine smile when she’s upset, and Moiraine reflects on how surprising it had been when they’d become friends. But despite being very different in some ways, they also have a lot in common, including having both been born with the spark. But while Moiraine was born wealthy and was celebrated for having the ability to channel, Siuan had been born poor in Tear, where channeling was outlawed.

Among other things, Siuan had come to the Tower in full control of her temper, she was quick with puzzles, which Moiraine was not, she could not abide horses, which Moiraine loved, and she learned at a rate that left Moiraine dazed.

Moiraine was educated as a noblewoman, but Siuan had arrived at the Tower barely able to read, and now is teaching the novice’s beginner classes in the Old Tongue. Not that Moiraine is any slouch—she and Siuan both finished their novice training in three years, which is a record only one other novice has every achieved. Elaida a’Roihan also completed her Accepted training in three years, which is another record and one that Siuan and Moiraine might very well achieve as well.

Then the sound of trumpets, hundreds of them, draws Tamra’s attention, and she instructs Moiraine to go see if there is any news of the battle and Siuan to make tea, and hurry up about it. Moiraine knows that any news would have already been brought in, but one doesn’t argue with the Amyrlin or point out that she’s made a mistake.

Siuan channels to heat the water for tea—normally using saidar for tasks is frowned upon, but the Amyrlin did say quickly—and Moiraine goes into the antechamber where she finds a novice named Elin Warrel reading a collection of love stories.

The Tower Library was the largest in the known world, containing copies of almost every book that had ever been printed, but this was unsuitable for a novice. Accepted were granted a little leeway—by that time, you knew that you would watch a husband age and die, and your children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, while you changed not at all—but novices were quietly discouraged from thinking about men or love, and kept away from men entirely.

Engrossed in her book, Elin doesn’t notice Moiraine come in until Moiraine tells her that she should find more appropriate reading material. Elin gasps and jumps to her feet, assuring Moiraine that no one could come in without her noticing and that Merean Sedai said that she could read. She asks why the book is inappropriate, but Moiraine doesn’t much care to get into that, and instead picks up the book Elin has dropped and remarks that the librarians won’t be pleased to have it returned damaged. She’s pleased at how much she sounds like a full sister.

She asks if there have been any messages from the battlefield, and Elin answers indignantly that she would have brought them in right away. Moiraine knows she would have, but only points out that it isn’t the proper response. She tells Elin to go back to her reading, then goes back into the other room, where Siuan hands her a cup of tea to take over to Gitara. Moiraine does so just as the clock chimes. She can still hear the trumpets calling, and they seem to sound frantic to her ears.

Moiraine is just offering Gitara her tea when the Keeper suddenly jerks to her feet, knocking over the inkwell on the table and standing rigid, staring terror-stricken over Moiraine’s head.

“He is born again!” Gitara cried. “I feel him! The Dragon takes his first breath on the slope of Dragonmount! He is coming! He is coming! Light help us! Light help the world! He lies in the snow and cries like the thunder! He burns like the sun!”

Then she gives a soft gasp and collapses into Moiraine’s arms, who drops the teacup and is born to the ground by the weight of the other woman. Tamra is at their side already embracing saidar, but she doesn’t use it on the Keeper. There is nothing to Heal.

Moiraine finds herself noting the way the spilled ink is obliterating whatever Gitara was writing, and the fact that the teacups that she and Siuan have both dropped did not break, and thinks about the odd things the mind notices when it is trying not to think about something.

“Not now, Gitara,” Tamra breathed softly. She sounded weary to the bone. “Not now, when I need you most.”

She addresses both Siuan and Moiraine, confirming that they both understand what Gitara just Foretold. She commands them both not to tell anyone, ordering them to lie if necessary, even to a sister. Moiraine is shocked—they haven’t yet been raised and are still capable of lying, but she had never imagined being ordered to do so. Tamra instructs them to send Elin in and go, and repeats her command not to tell anyone what they’ve heard.

I wished to hear a Foretelling, Moiraine thought as she made her final curtsy before leaving, and what I received was a Foretelling of doom. Now, she wished very much that she had been more careful of what she wished for.

 

I know that the title “The Hook” is a reference to the ridge where Lan stations his men as the anvil, but I keep thinking of that Blues Traveler song of the same name. And the Hook is definitely bringing me back, friends.

There are so many interesting little details that remind me of moments in the other five books I’ve read so far. Having just visited Cairhien for the first time in The Fires of Heaven, it was really fun to see Lan judge them for their battle tactics, or use a Cairhienin looking glass to observe the Aiel column. Even the hammer and anvil technique came up in The Fires of Heaven, when Rand had Lan lead Mat into a discussion about battle tactics to gauge his strange new expertise.

It was also interesting to note how much both Lan and Moiraine reminded me of Nynaeve in these chapters. The fact that the three share a lot of traits was apparent in the other novels as well; Lan and Moiraine don’t have a romantic relationship but it’s clear that Lan’s devotion to Moiraine is predicated on an admiration of her fiery strength, her stubbornness, and deep, abiding compassion for others. Which is also the foundation of his love for Nynaeve. And I remember back in The Great Hunt when Lan and Moiraine talked about how they met. Even then, the whole throwing each other in ponds thing felt very like Nynaeve, especially as Moiraine apparently responded to a single indignity with days of retaliatory torment for Lan. That is an extremely Nynaeve-esque move. As much as she claimed it was just to be sure of her safety around such a big, powerful man, I’m quite sure it was also Moiraine holding a grudge.

Her belief that she has a right to know what’s going on in the battle also reminded me of Nynaeve. Elayne too, a bit, but while Elayne intends to take her mother’s throne one day, Moiraine is taking the traditional Aes Sedai path. I don’t think she intends to go back to the Cairhien court after she’s raised or anything like that. Although now that I type it, I have to ask myself why I assume so. Maybe that is exactly what Moiraine intended. Aes Sedai often become advisors to rulers, after all, and we know that Cairhien holds them in high esteem. I am probably letting my knowledge of Moiraine’s future color my reading of her here. She and Siuan have not yet dedicated their lives to hunting for and guiding the Dragon Reborn.

In any case, Moiraine’s indignation at being told that the war her uncle started is a distraction to her studies reminds me of Nynaeve. Egwene doesn’t appear to worry too often about any responsibility to Emond’s Field, and Elayne seems to have a pretty clear dividing line in her mind about when she’s acting as future Aes Sedai and when she is carrying herself as as the Daughter-Heir of Andor. Most of the time anyway. But Nynaeve struggles to stop thinking of herself as a Wisdom, struggles to let go of the duty she feels towards that role, and seeing that in Moiraine—that inability to accept the rules of the Tower that make the outside world nothing more than a distraction to her for as long as it takes for her to gain the shawl—was a really interesting experience.

But it’s not just a connection to home that we’re seeing here. There is also Moiraine’s strong sense of justice—the kind of justice that will lead her to choose to join the Blue Ajah. She is aware that the war is Laman’s fault, even though it does not excuse the Aiel’s retaliation. I think perhaps it is not only a “right” that Moiraine feels towards the war, but a duty as well.

But as I said, Lan also reminded me of Nynaeve in his chapter, especially when he was affronted by the messenger’s lack of courtesy. We see a temper in Lan here; yes, he has learned to control it, but it’s more than we see in the Lan of the other novels, if only because he has yet to have any pov chapters of his own, as of the end of The Fires of Heaven. We also get the sense, though it isn’t explicitly stated, that the customs he expected the messenger to follow are Borderlander customs, not universal ones. This Lan is not the well-traveled Warder we know, one who has experienced the societies and customs of many nations. He can’t even believe that there’s a place in the world where it never snows, and it doesn’t seem to occur to him that Tear might have different rules or etiquette. I’ve remarked before on how difficult of a time Nynaeve has with the same concept; Egwene and Mat and Rand are all much more flexible when it comes to understanding the customs of new cultures, while Nynaeve is often stuck on the concept that the way she knows is more right and more civilized.

Not that the messenger isn’t rude, even if some of what Lan resents is a cultural difference. All the Tairen lords are though, from what we’ve seen of that nation.

I believe this is the first time we’ve been given a name, hadori, for Lan’s headband. There are lots of little details like that in Chapter One, including the information about the men who carried baby Lan out of Malkier. I like Bukama a lot, and he represents a concrete connection between Lan and his heritage: someone who actually lived in Malkier before it fell, who knew and spoke to his parents at least once, and who can impart not just Borderland training but actual Malkieri training and customs to Lan. I’m kind of worried that he’s going to die by the end of the book, a symbolic severing of this connection to Malkier as Lan’s main priority becomes service to Moiraine.

I was also struck by the statement that Lan has known since boyhood that he will never die in bed of old age. Not surprised, mind you, but it served to further reinforce my opinion that much of Lan’s life is marked by depression and hopelessness, which I talked about in last week’s essay.

It was pretty funny seeing him carry the same caution and suspicion towards the Aes Sedai that everyone else does, knowing how much that opinion will change by the time we meet him. And how much parts of it will begin to come back as he falls in love with Nynaeve and her loyalties, as Moiraine puts it to herself, become his as well. But seriously, the man has no idea how tied to Aes Sedai he’s going to end up!

As we know, Gitara is the same person whose Foretelling sent Tigraine into the Waste to become a Maiden, and I think it was also she who sent Tigraine’s brother Luc on some mysterious mission into the Blight. So she’s been mixed up with Rand’s fate for some time. I liked Gitara immediately. Her flashy dressing, the fact that she has a barely concealed devotion to her old Ajah even after becoming Keeper—she’s a real character and I would have liked to see more of her. Having her die after giving the Foretelling is a quick way to really drive home the seriousness and intensity of it, but it feels a bit cheap to me, to be honest.

And it’s not just Tigraine who’s down on the slopes of Dragonmount somewhere. Tam is there too, about to find the newborn Rand. I was reminded of him when Lan was using the flame-and-void trick, or ko’di, as he calls it. Tam was out there in the fighting around the mountain, possibly using the same trick in the same moment. Geographically and spiritually these men were so close, sharing a connection to the future that they couldn’t imagine any more readily than Moiraine could imagine how her wish to see a Foretelling might be fulfilled.

I’m always on about Jordan’s dramatic irony, but dang that was good. As was the moment when Bukama made the sign against evil towards Dragonmount and Lan thought about how no one wanted the prophecy of the mountain fulfilled, but that of course it would eventually be. Got some news for you Lan. Today is that day!

I think this is the first time we encounter the term Delving for the thing Aes Sedai do to see if someone needs Healing. I also noticed that Foretelling is referred to as a Talent, with a capital T, which seems to be the word used about special abilities that not every Aes Sedai can have. Healing and Dreaming have also been referred to using this term, I believe, and it’s interesting to see the distinction made between Talents and just being skilled in one of the Powers, or being a strong channeler in general. Anecdotally, most of the Aes Sedai we’ve seen so far with a Talent also seem to be strong in saidar in general, but it also seems to be true that a sister with less strength could have a Talent in something like Healing while a sister with more might not have that particularly ability at all.

But that whole stop-yourself-from-sweating thing has come up again, and I’m just confused. We have confirmation here that the trick is not related to the One Power, even though we’ve only ever seen Aes Sedai use it so far. But Siuan didn’t seem to be able do it anymore once she was stilled, so that doesn’t seem to track.

Ugh, it’s such a small thing but it’s really been bugging me. I blame Jordan for how tight his world building usually is. Seeming discrepancies seem more jarring. So I went back and looked at that section. Here it is, for reference:

Siuan told herself that she did not envy these women their ability to channel—she was past that, surely—but she did envy the way none of them perspired. Her own face was quite damp.

Technically this quote doesn’t say that the ability to channel is necessary to the not sweating, but it certainly implies that they are connected. The only thing I can think of is that it’s not directly connected. Maybe the reason Siuan can’t stop sweating is just because her position is more precarious. We know she has struggled with her temper more, as well as with hiding her fear. Perhaps what she is actually envying is the position of power and security that Sheriam and her fellow Aes Sedai have. The trick is a mental one, maybe, but Siuan has so little power and security now that she has to devote that energy to other things. If she still had the ability to channel she’d feel more secure, and be able to devote some brain space to stopping those sweat glands. Or keeping her body temperature down. Or whatever it is that the Aes Sedai are doing.

I wonder if any Aes Sedai know the flame and void trick. It would seem to be a similar technique in some ways, though not exactly the same. You’d still sweat in the void, you just wouldn’t feel it.

Well, I suppose this makes as much sense as any other theory. I’d be interested in yours though, dear readers, if you’ve thought of something (non-spoilery) that I missed. Please tweet it at me!

Next week we’ll cover Chapter Three and Four, in which we’ll see more of Siuan and Moiraine and more channeling. In the meantime, can we just take a moment to appreciate the opening line of New Spring? The first five novels (not counting prologues) all open with sweeping, Tolkien-like descriptions of wind driving across the land. But while New Spring also starts with a wind, it has one of those great snappy lines that would definitely catch your attention if you picked it up in a bookstore and only scanned the first page.

A cold wind gusted through the night, across the snow-covered land where men had been killing one another for the past three days.

Yes. This is a line that grabs me, well done Robert Jordan.

Sylas K Barrett can be found on Twitter under the handle @ThatSyGuy.

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