Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: A Trip to Shayol Ghul and Salidar in Robert Jordan’s Lord of Chaos (Part 1)

Hello hello, and welcome back once again to Reading The Wheel of Time! After two weeks away, I am very excited to be starting Lord of Chaos. Which has oddly lost the “The” that has been in every other title thus far in the series, and which I find oddly irksome for some reason. I guess it’s fitting that a book about a Lord of Chaos would dispense with the orderly nature of previous books, but as a result I can only hear the title in the voice of Jeff Goldblum, like the way he says “Lord of Thunder” in Thor: Ragnarok.

More to the point, I’ve been getting some tutoring in summaries from Tor.com’s own Emmet Asher-Perrin, and I’m going to start running those sections very differently. I mean, you all have read the books, you don’t need an extensive blow-by-blow from me every week! And what better time to test my newfound skills and resist my completist tendencies than with this immensely long slog of a prologue that opens Lord of Chaos. We’re going to ease in by covering half of the Prologue, up through Elayne’s section.

Are you ready? I’m ready. Let’s do this thing.

Demandred steps out of a gateway and onto the slopes of Shayol Ghul. He reflects that the area used to be an island in an idyllic sea, and stops to watch a forger—a large not quite alive being that makes swords for Myrddraal—quench a blade and drag prisoners inside its workshop. A Myrddraal interrupts his thoughts to escort him to the Great Lord, naming itself ​​Shaidar Haran. Demandred follows the Myrddraal to the entry in the mountain, a tunnel with jagged spikes hanging from the ceiling. Normally, these spikes descend to brush the head of whoever is descending into the mountain, a reminder from the Dark Lord. But the Myrddraal is given space between itself and the spires, and Demandred takes note of this. They reach the Pit of Doom.

Even after all his visits—and the first lay well over three thousand years in the past—Demandred felt awe. Here he could sense the Bore, the hole drilled through so long ago to where the Great Lord had lain imprisoned since the moment of Creation. Here the Great Lord’s presence washed over him. Physically, this place was no closer to the Bore than any other in the world, but here there was a thinness in the Pattern that allowed it to be sensed.

He dismisses the Myrddraal but it ignores his orders. Then he hears the Dark Lord in his head, a voice that crushes his brain inside his skull and fills him with rapture. He gives his report, but finds that the Dark Lord knows more than he does, including that Rahvin has been killed with Balefire by the Dragon. The Dark Lord implies that Demandred could be Nae’blis, the one who stands first below the Lord himself, and gives Demandred his instructions.

Nynaeve chides Siuan and Leane for fidgeting while she tries to study their stilling. She is using the bracelet and collar to control Marigan, who is really Moghedien, and channel through her. Nynaeve notes that there is something torn or cut in the women, and Moghedien observes that it was called “severing” in her time. Nynaeve has Siuan and Leane try on the bracelet, and everyone, even Moghedien, is shocked when they can feel her through the connection, though they still cannot touch the Source. Nynaeve is convinced that this means there is something in the women to heal; Siuan gets upset but Leane seems hopeful.

Elayne bursts in, complaining furiously that she’s been denied a place in the embassy to Caemlyn. Siuan points out that Sheriam will never let the Daughter-Heir fall into the Dragon’s hands, even if neither Elayne nor Siuan believe that he really did kill Morgase, as rumors say. They argue, Leane pointing out how Rand is gathering power too quickly, and Siuan reminding them that she is still trying to make sure Sheriam and the others support Rand at all. Nynaeve realizes that Siuan knew about the embassy before now. Siuan mentions that Min is also going. Elayne apologizes for interrupting them and leaves.

Siuan and Leane leave too, despite Nynaeve’s protests, leaving her with nothing to do but question Moghedien again. They have learned a lot from her, some of which they keep to themselves but most of which they have passed on to the Aes Sedai as “discoveries” they have made in their practice. Nynaeve feels guilty for keeping so many secrets, but it’s too dangerous not to.

Elayne passes Birgitte in the hall, trying not to think about her mother. She passes Gareth Bryne, who has been cold and distant with her despite how long they’ve known each other, and is stopped by Anaiya and Janya Sedai. Janya, a Brown, rambles on about the discoveries Nynaeve and Elayne have made, while Janya compliments her work and tells her that she should be proud of herself. Elayne is deeply uncomfortable being praised for things that come from Moghedien.

She finds Min sitting with her back to a tree by the river, away from the Aes Sedai and Warders. Min tells Elayne that Siuan wants her to spy on Rand and send messages back to Salidar. The two discuss their shared feelings for Rand, and their fear that it may eventually disrupt their friendship, despite their promises to each other. Min promises to carry a letter to Rand for Elayne, and Min promises not to tell Rand about her viewing that she, Elayne, and another woman are all going to be in love with him and tied to him forever. Elayne regards the cloudless sky and tries to use saidar to find a bit of rain. Min points out that Rand is doing well, killing Forsaken and gaining control of more lands. She tells Elayne that they are winning.

Releasing the Source, Elayne sagged back, staring at a sky as empty as her mood had become. You did not need to be able to channel to see the Dark One’s hand at work, and if he could touch the world this much, if he could touch it at all… “Are we?” she said, but too softly for Min to hear.

 

I had to really search my memory, but I don’t believe we’ve met Demandred yet. He has been name-dropped a lot, however, even back in The Eye of the World. Also his name sounds too much like he’s related to Moiraine, but I’m trying to accept the realism of Jordan’s naming systems. After all, in our world there are people who share names despite not being related, and many names that are similar to many others. It’s not Jordan’s fault that I couldn’t decide for a hot minute if Demandred was one of Moiraine’s uncles or Galad’s dad. I also briefly thought he might be Luc Mantear before I went back and checked the names. Jordan must have had some kind of chart to keep all these characters straight. But yeah, all that being said I’m excited to meet Demandred since his name has cropped up so often.

As always, Jordan’s descriptions of place and landscape are enthralling, and I absolutely love that we opened with finally getting to see Shayol Ghul. I’d say it lives up to the hype, so to speak. I’m fascinated by the concepts of the forgers being animated beings but not alive. This makes sense, of course, since the Dark One can’t make life, but it makes me wonder how these creatures work and where they come from. As the series progresses we learn more about the origins of Shadowspawn—later in the prologue we find out that it was the Forsaken, not the Dark One, who made Trollocs and Myrddraal, for example—so I have to wonder if the forgers are animated by the Dark One’s power, by the weaves of Darkfriend channelers, or by something else. And I guess the forging of a Myrddraal blade includes getting human blood on it? Or maybe it’s the act of taking a life that seals the blade. Either way, it’s upsetting to realize that this is what happens to many people taken in the Borderlands; the nations there have so much strength to stand against the encroaching Blight, but I doubt they know about this particularly nasty fate.

And speaking of Myrddraal, it seems like Shaidar Haran is a very special one. I was very much reminded of the Mouth of Sauron as soon as we learned that his name means “Hand of the Dark.” And it comes from the Old Tongue, rather than the Trolloc language? This Myrddraal is definitely going to continue to be significant to our story in some way that the others haven’t been. Maybe they’re evolving, becoming more powerful or more human as their master gets closer to freedom. Or maybe Shaidar Haran was just made for some special purpose.

It was fascinating reading the experience of communicating directly with the Dark One. The fact that there is an aspect of ecstasy to experiencing his voice inside your head adds more complexity to the experience of being a Darkfriend. Yes, they are motivated by things like greed and power-lust and a desire for immortality, but the experience of giving yourself over to the Dark One comes with other sensations and rewards. It’s also reminiscent of how channelers feel when they get close to drawing too much of the One Power; the sweetness is so intense it becomes painful, and even knowing that it could destroy them, they are still always tempted to take more anyway. The pain of the Dark One’s presence becomes sweetness in its own way, and is clearly desperately intoxicating.

One of the constant questions voiced by the characters in The Wheel of Time is how much of the Pattern the Dark One can see or touch, how much knowledge and influence he has on the world. In The Eye of the World Moiraine was appalled at the suggestion that the Dark One could reach into Perrin, Mat, and Rand’s dreams (though fortunately that turned out to just be Ishamael, not the Dark One himself) and wondered at times if it was the Pattern or the Dark One’s Hand directing their path. Certainly the long winter that didn’t fully break until after Rand defeated Ba’alzamon at the Eye was a sign of the Dark One’s power, as is the continuing summer heat and drought that began in The Fires of Heaven. But even the Forsaken don’t know what the Dark One can do and what he knows, as we see here when Demandred observes that he’s been as surprised by what the Dark One seemed not to know as what he did know.

The Dark One almost seems to have a bit of a personality here; he sounds frustrated or angry when he mentions not being able to step outside of Time. One wonders how such a being experiences emotion, being so different from anything within the World, and how that emotion and “speech” is being translated for Demandred’s comprehension. When Rand and the others still thought Ba’alzamon was the Dark One himself, I figured that the person they saw was only a shadow, an emissary, or a figure representing the being called the Dark One, and even now I expect this ecstasy and pain inspiring voice must be created in order to interact with humans closer to their level. It will be interesting if we see more of this going forward, more little clues about where and what the Dark One really is.

I’m not even going to pretend to understand the metaphysics of the Bore being somewhere else, but the Pattern being thin so that it’s felt specifically at the Pit of Doom. It’s a cool concept though.

Moiraine has explained the problem with Balefire, but Demandred having been there when it was used during the War of Power makes the dangers feel much more real. The fact that even the Dreadlords would elect not to use it, that Demandred himself was so reluctant as to actually hesitate in his answer to the Dark One tells you a lot. I suppose even the Dark One wouldn’t want the Pattern to unravel. If it did, he’d have no Creation left to remake in his image or whatever. I wonder what the Dark One even gets out of remaking Creation, anyway. Like is he going to stick his fingers in his ears and blow raspberries at the Creator? Watch all the little people suffering like it’s his own little ant farm? I know that Dark One isn’t a human, but he is bound by Time, and that’s probably true even if he escapes his prison. So he’d have lost the only purpose in his life and he’d just be… pointless.

A lot of the section between Nynaeve, Siuan, Leane, and Moghedien is recap, but it does contain some helpful information. We can see that Siuan and Leane’s manipulation of the Hall at Salidar has been going well, and that they make a good team—they flawlessly support each other while arguing with Elayne, no doubt just as they did when convincing Sheriam and the others of the plan in the first place. Siuan still has most of the power in her situation with Nynaeve too, as she shows by leaving the session abruptly while Nynaeve was trying to threaten her over upsetting Elayne. But you can also see moments in which Siuan is vulnerable; she’s clearly afraid to let even the slightest bit of hope in about having her stilling undone, which makes sense. She has enough purpose in her life, and enough stubborn drive, to keep going despite her loss. But that emptiness and loss is so strong, and if she were to get her hopes up only to have them dashed, it would probably be an unimaginably painful experience.

I, on the other hand, fully believe that Nynaeve is going to figure out how to Heal stilling. Moghedien doesn’t believe it can be done either, but she doesn’t know everything about what was possible in the Age of Legends, and has professed to know very little about Healing in particular. It’s even possible, though probably unlikely, that Nynaeve might discover an ability that didn’t exist during the Age of Legends. After all, just because that time was glorious doesn’t mean they knew everything, and just because some old things are coming back (like being a wolfbrother) doesn’t mean that new things can’t be born. Nynaeve is stubborn enough to manage that, I think.

Both Nynaeve and Elayne are very preoccupied with how much subterfuge they’re employing at Salidar, which I found interesting. They both have a strong moral objection to the kinds of lies they’ve been telling, and both are very concerned that Moghedien isn’t being brought to justice as long as they refrain from turning her over to the Aes Sedai. The latter belief is interesting, especially because Moghedien is literally bound by the collar, which is a pretty horrific type of imprisonment and slavery. Nynaeve is very conscious of feeling dirty using such measures, of course, but there is also a sense that keeping Moghedien a prisoner is keeping her away from the punishment (death) that she deserves.

I do feel for Elayne. She has done what no other Aes Sedai in her time has done, learned how to make a ter’angreal. But so many of the discoveries that she is being credited with aren’t hers, it must make her feel like a fraud, robbing her of the pride she should have in her accomplishments. She’s not wrong that she’s the person who should go to Rand, either—he’s never going to trust the women they send, but what’s more, the longer she’s kept from Rand the longer the truth of what actually happened to Morgase stays hidden. Yes, Rand thinks Rahvin killed her, but he also knows that Gaebril was Rahvin in disguise, and that could go a long way in clearing up the distrust that Morgase’s nobles and followers have developed towards her. It might even start to clear up things with Gareth Bryne. But I have a feeling that it’s going to be a long time before the truth comes out that Morgase is alive and that the way she seemed to turn on her friends and abandon her people wasn’t her fault. And I expect to be very frustrated about it.

Indeed, I get the sense that much of this book is going to be about the problems of communication, whether they be from lying and secrecy or just the inability to get the right facts to the right people. It’s certainly noteworthy that Elayne is observing so much obfuscation among the Salidar Aes Sedai, the way she’s realized that even the sisters don’t share everything with each other, that some, or even many, have secret weaves. How many other secrets do the sisters have from each other, even before you get to the Black Ajah.

Is it just me, or did everyone kind of forget about the Black Ajah? Neither Siuan and Leane, nor Nynaeve, nor Elayne seem to be thinking of that at all. Are they just assuming that the Blacks would have stayed with Elaida? That seems terribly short sighted. Every time any Aes Sedai talks to them I’m wondering if she’s Black. And sooner or later, one of them is going to turn out to be.

Moghedien’s answers have cleared up a few questions I’ve had about the Forsaken and the One Power, though. This section confirmed what I’ve always suspected must be true, that you can hide your ability to channel and make weaves invisible even to others of your gender. With all the Forsaken running about that had to be possible. Moghedien’s presence around Nynaeve and Elayne on the boat and then around the Aes Sedai in Salidar confirmed that even before now, but I’m happy to have it stated officially. I’m sure we’ll soon be learning more about inverted weaves.

It’s good to see Elayne and Min continuing to work on their friendship, despite all the drama with Rand. We can see how Rand’s ta’veren power is working on both of them, how trapped they both feel even despite their love for him. Elayne worries that Rand will be upset if he suspects that it’s the Pattern forcing them to feel a certain way, but they’re both also worried that they won’t be able to govern their choices, to resist him if he calls, and that I think has more to do with Rand’s power than their love. After all, we’ll see Perrin struggle the same way when we finish the Prologue next week.

Perrin is finally back! I’m so excited my dears, I can’t even tell you. But we’ll have to wait until next week to talk about him, and Faile, and Gawyn, and some Black Aes Sedai on Elaida’s camp, and, well, some reincarnated Forsaken. They warned us the Dark One could do that, so I suppose I shouldn’t be very surprised to see it.

Have a lovely week, and don’t forget, my reviews for Episode Five of The Wheel of Time TV show goes up Saturday at noon!

Sylas K Barrett is really invested in everyone’s clothes this week, and hopes Nynaeve will be able to get out of that Accepted dress soon. At least Min’s back in her usual wardrobe.

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