Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: Graendal and Semirhage Treat Their Patients in Robert Jordan’s Lord of Chaos (Part 6)

Welcome back my friends, it is time once again for Reading The Wheel of Time. This week we’re covering Chapter 6 of Lord of Chaos, in which Sammael gets manipulated (but not in the way he thinks) and Sylas gets Semirhage and Graendal mixed up. We also get a lot of fun new world building, and answer last week’s question about whether or not a Gateway could actually cut someone in half.

Which, gross, it can. Does Rand know that’s a thing he could accidentally do?

Chapter 6 opens with Sammael stepping through a gateway and into Graendal’s palace in Arad Doman. He keeps his hold on saidin, distrustful of meeting on anyone else’s terrain. He observes some of Graendal’s “pets,” beautiful men and women performing acrobatics, playing music, or dancing in little or no clothing. She greets him, and Sammael considers how many layers of obfuscation surround the woman, who was a dedicated ascetic who treated disturbed minds before she joined the Shadow.

On the surface her total fixation was her own pleasure, nearly obscuring a desire to pull down everyone who had a particle of power. And that in turn almost hid her own thirst for power, very seldom exercised openly. Graendal had always been very good at hiding things in plain sight. He thought he knew her better than any of the other Chosen did—she had accompanied him to Shayol Ghul to make his obeisance—but even he did not know all the layers of her.

Graendal shows off some of the Domani king’s relatives, and then a couple from the lands beyond the Aiel Waste. The woman is a ruler who would only have the throne for seven years before dying and passing it on to her husband, who would rule for seven years himself before dying and passing the throne on to his second wife, continuing a long running tradition that they claim is the will of the Pattern. Sammael is bored and suggests that at some point some visitor to the palace is going to recognize a lost loved one, but Graendal laughs that off.

Graendal has been passing information from her meetings with Demandred, Semirhage, and Mesaana. She needles Sammael about Rand, who Sammael insists is nothing like Lews Therin and hardly a threat, despite his lucky successes. Graendal believes that Rand killed Asmodean, Lanfear, and possibly Moghedien as well. Sammael asks if it will violate any of the Great Lord’s commands if, when Rand finally attacks him, Sammael destroys him, and Graendal answers that she has passed on everything Demandred told her. They argue about the danger Rand poses, and Graendal insists that the Chosen need to stand together.

“We behave as if this is the world we knew, when nothing is what we knew. We die one by one, and al’Thor grows stronger. Lands and people gather behind him. And we die. Immortality is mine. I do not want to die.”

“If he frightens you, then kill him.” Before the words were well out of his mouth he would have swallowed them if he could.

Graendal replies smartly that she serves and obeys the Great Lord; Sammael insists that he does as well. Still, she seems to show concern, even fear about Rand. Sammael remembers what Ishamael used to believe.

Ishamael had died mad, true, but even when he was still sane, back when it seemed they surely would drive Lews Therin Telamon to defeat, he claimed this struggle had gone on since the Creation, an endless war between the Great Lord and the Creator using human surrogates. More, he avowed that the Great Lord would almost as soon have turned Lews Therin to the Shadow as have broken free.

There were efforts to turn Lews Therin, and Ishamael had claimed that in past ages, the Light’s Champion had been turned, and become the Shadow’s champion instead. He doesn’t much like to consider that the Great Lord might want to make Rand Nae’blis. Sammael gives Graendal a message for Demandred which basically amounts to “back off my turf” and then Graendal starts talking about the people from Shara again, and how they handle their channelers. Sammael wonders why she wants him to think she has an interest in those lands.

Sammael leaves, and is irritated when Graendal warns him again to be careful, even going so far as to suggest he abandon Illian and start over. He asks yet again if Graendal has told him all of the Great Lord’s command, then decides that she’s probably telling the truth, since “a lie touching the Great Lord could rebound with deadly force.” He leaves her with a suggestion that she find out more about “how Demandred and the others mean to carry out the Great Lord’s instructions.”

The gateway he opens cuts a serving man in half. Graendal looks vexed about it until Sammael is gone, then has the mess cleaned up as she muses about the amount of work put into obtaining the couple from Shara and how transparent Sammael is to her.

She sipped her wine, and her forehead furrowed slightly. Possibly she had already achieved her end with him, though she had expected it to take four or five visits. She would have to find reason to call on him in Illian; it was best to observe the patient even after it appeared the desired path had been taken.

Graendal doesn’t know if Rand is lucky, or actually talented, or has help from Lanfear or somewhere else, but she has decided that he is too dangerous to be allowed to continue. She can’t violate the Dark One’s commandments, however, so she is aiming Sammael at al’Thor instead, so that he will be the one blamed. And punished.

A servant informs her that a Lord Ituralde has arrived to see her, and she changes her appearance to that of a sickly Domani woman, Lady Basene. As she goes out, she considers that no one else knows that she has made her own journey to Shayol Ghul, and that the Great Lord has all but promised that she will be Nae’blis.

Semirhage goes into a room where she has an Aes Sedai suspended spreadeagled in the air. She proceeds to use saidar to stimulate the pain receptors in the woman’s brain, torturing her until she screams, while musing angrily over how much she hates the children who call themselves Aes Sedai.

She had been one herself, a true Aes Sedai, not an ignorant fool like the simpleton hanging before her. She had been known, famed, whisked to every corner of the world for her ability to mend any injury, to bring people back from the brink when everyone else said there was nothing more to be done.

But when it was discovered that Semirhage was also torturing the people she saved, as well as others who she felt deserved it, she was offered a choice between being bound “never to know her pleasures again” or being severed, she chose the third option, and fled to Shayol Ghul. She feels that the Aes Sedai were jealous of her talents and tried to pull her down out of spite. Later, during the War of Power, she used those talents against some of those Aes Sedai, breaking them so completely they swore themselves to the Lord of the Dark.

Eventually, Semirhage eases up on the pain, and asks the woman her name. She learns that it’s Cabriana Mecandes, and she gives the woman a little hit of pleasure and wipes her brow, pointing out how much better it will be if Cabriana doesn’t make things difficult for herself. Cabriana flings insults at her, so Semirhage starts the pain again, tying off the weave and leaving the Aes Sedai alone in the dark.

Despite herself Semirhage made a vexed sound. There was no finesse in this. She did not like having to hurry. And to be called away from her charge; the girl was willful and obdurate, the circumstances difficult.

Outside, she reports the name to Shaidar Haran, who instructs her to drain every bit of information from the woman as quickly as possible. Semirhage insists that she told the Great Lord she would do just that, and finds a cold knot of fear in her stomach as the Myrddraal departs. She resolves to analyze that feeling later, reminding herself that Shaidar Haran is still just a Myrddraal, even if he is different from every other Myrddraal.

Going into the next room she regards Cabriana’s Warder. He’s not important, but he’d been captured with his Aes Sedai and Semirhage has not yet had a chance to break a Warder.

He never flinched. He said nothing. His defiance was different from the woman’s. Hers was bold, flung in your face, his a quiet refusal to bend. He might be harder to crack than his mistress. Normally he would have been much the more interesting.

She notes a tightness around the Warder’s eyes, and realizes that he is fighting pain. None of the Chosen understand the Warder bond, but Semirhage can see that this shared feeling might be a side effect.

Instead of pain, she gives the Warder pleasure. He seems to realize that it’s something she is doing to him and tries to fight it. She muses that he might think pleasure would be easier to fight than pain, and is excited to break him using only this. Thinking about the difference between the use of pain and pleasure sparks her to think about the difference in Shaidar Haran, which gets her thinking about how everything seems to be going so well, except for the strange arrival of a new kind of Myrddraal who has been set above even the Chosen. She’s also troubled that Lanfear, Moghedien, and Asmodean seem to have vanished; Demandred believes that they’re dead but Semirhage isn’t so sure.

The Chosen were no more than pieces on the board; they might be Counselors and Spires, but they were still pieces. If the Great Lord moved her here secretly, might he not be moving Moghedien or Lanfear, or even Asmodean? Might Shaidar Haran not be sent to deliver covert commands to Graendal or Sammael?

For that matter, even her allies Demandred and Mesaana might be receiving secret orders or making their own plans against her. Semirhage is prepared to kneel before al’Thor if the Great Lord names him Nae’blis, at least until time delivers him into her hands. As far as she is concerned, there will be plenty of patients to divert her and eternity to wait for her chance. But Shaidar Haran makes her anxious.

Suddenly she realizes that the Warder has died—she let her attention wander too much and overdid it. She wonders if the Aes Sedai could feel what the Warder was going through, and goes to check on Cabriana. She finds the Aes Sedai screaming and begging, and thinks perhaps there is a little fun in this assignment after all.

 

This isn’t really relevant to this week’s analysis, but I feel compelled to tell you all the very funny story of how I somehow completely missed that the POV in Chapter 6 switches from Graendal to Semirhage. I was already getting them confused from the little we’ve learned about the two before now, and I probably took a break in between sections or something, but it’s still a pretty big mix up! I was halfway through writing a paragraph dissecting the differences between the three very different sides of Graendal when I finally caught that we’d transitioned over to Semirhage for the torture bits.

It appears that Graendal was a sort of psychologist in the Age of Legends. Specifically it says that she treated “those with disturbed minds Healing could not touch.” I’m curious if this means using the Power in some other way besides what is classified Healing, or if it’s closer to the sort of treatment that we the readers picture when we think of therapy. It’s interesting to consider the idea of the Age of Legends not being able to solve all their problems with the One Power, even though they seem to have conquered scarcity and basically eliminated violence and crime prior to the drilling of the Bore. Did Graendal use talk therapy, CBT, ACT, exposure therapy and such? Did she prescribe psychiatric medication? Are prescription drugs something they needed, even though they could do things with the One Power that make them see the modern Aes Sedai as no more than primitive children? It’s a fascinating question.

And you know, if they did, it sure puts the modern Aes Sedai’s dismissive attitude towards Nynaeve’s herbs in a slightly different light.

Semirhage, on the other hand, was a Healer, and apparently the best of them. Still, there is something decidedly psychological in the torture she uses here. She’s not interested in how the bodies of her victims respond, but in fundamentally altering their minds through the application of pleasure and pain. She finds the results more satisfying and reliable than Compulsion, which is a weave placed on a mind, rather than a physical altering of that mind, and therefore can be unraveled and undone. But she also comes off less… rational than Graendal somehow. I think it’s the way she considers that she deserves the right to inflict pain on other people, and the fact that it seems impossible that her fellow Aes Sedai would have had a moral problem with that.

She had deserved the right to do as she did; she had earned the right. She had been more valuable to the world than all those together who entertained her with their screams. And in jealousy and spite the Hall had tried to pull her down!

To be fair, all of the Forsaken kind of have the same basic flaws and blindspots, with their greed and ambition and their intense feelings that they are better than everyone else. But there’s a certain kind of self-delusion, or covert narcissism maybe, in this that’s different than, say, Lanfear’s self importance, which just stops at “I’m more powerful than anyone and this is what I want.” Semirhage is almost playing the victim, in a way that reminds me more of the way half of the male Forsaken are basically just evil because they were famous channelers or famous generals but Lews Therin was more famous and that’s not fair!

As a result, I find Graendal and Moghedien much more interesting than the other Forsaken. They feel, comparatively at least, more clear-eyed about their goals, and who they are as people. I’ll get into this a little more with Moghedien when we get to Chapter 8, but as far as Graendal goes I did not expect to like her as much as I did in this chapter. Obviously her morality, and her treatment of other people, is as odious as any of the Forsaken, but her motivations and approach to things are more interesting than I expected them to be. I’m especially intrigued by the fact that she used to be a dedicated ascetic, and the fact that even Sammael seems aware that her apparent fixation on her own pleasure and indulgence is at least somewhat a screen, meant to distract from her “desire to pull down everyone who had a particle of power.”

Graendal also seems to believe that people’s position in life should be “chosen for them according to their talents and the needs of society,” a thought reminiscent of the Roman philosophy concept of the philosopher king, which sounds great on its face and really just becomes fascism and a denial of free will. One wonders if she always held this belief, even before she turned to the Shadow. Perhaps the desire for this kind of order was one of the things that drove her to ally herself to the Dark Lord, and which goads her hunger for power now. Perhaps that’s why she wants so badly to be Nae’blis, so that she can order the world as she sees fit. True, her desire for pleasure seems to be genuine, but I think her desire for this philosophized order is stronger.

Still, she does have many of the same blindspots as the rest of the Forsaken. I think her bead on Sammael is mostly accurate; he’s clearly very attached to his control over Illian, and I think his hatred of Lews Therin would drive him to kill Rand no matter what the Dark Lord had dictated, if he was given the opportunity and was sufficiently caught up in the heat of the moment. He has clearly bought most of her subterfuge, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that she’s read him exactly right, either. She’s terribly sure of herself, which tends to be the downfall of all of the Forsaken. Even Moghedien, so cautious as to be deemed a coward by her fellows, got caught that way.

And I must say, the more everyone in this book becomes certain that Sammael is trapped, the less I trust that belief. And he does say that he has lines of retreat prepared, just in case. Narratively, he almost seems like a red herring at this point, and I have to wonder if he’s either going to turn out to be much cleverer and more formidable than anyone has given him credit for, or he isn’t the main big bad in Lord of Chaos at all, and the person Rand is going to end up having to worry about and deal with is actually Demandred. Which would be a bit funny, really, since Rand has already been deflected from going after Sammael once before, when he heard that Rahvin had Morgase. How ironic would it be if Sammael kept hanging on for another couple of books because things just kept coming up for Rand.

Why do I feel like the fact that all the other Forsaken men getting more attention from the Dragon Reborn than he is might really make Sammael mad? After all, Rand’s obsessed with him!

Speaking of the Forsaken’s blindspots, nothing makes me feel more smug than the dramatic irony of watching the Dark One heavily imply to each of them in turn that they are going to be Nae’blis, which is so obviously a way to manipulate all of them. All these people think they are so smart, so important, so much better than ordinary people, the Aes Sedai of the Age of Legends, and Lews Therin Telamon. Not one of them has ever considered that they might be pawns in the Dark One’s plans, that such a being might discard them as easily as they discard those Darkfriends who serve beneath them. That he might lie about Nae’blis, about immortality, about all of it.

After all, the Dark One intends to remake Creation in his own image. Why should he want to keep things like human rulers at all?

I find Ishamael’s suggestion that the Dark One wanted to turn Lews Therin to the Shadow very interesting. When he was being Ba’alzamon, we saw him try to turn Rand to his side, probably intending Rand to be his right hand as Ishamael was right hand to the Dark One in turn, or possibly to turn him over and hope that his success in corrupting the Dragon Reborn would earn him Nae’blis status. I believe there’s also been mention somewhere in one of the novels that the Dragon has gone over to the Dark One before, although that may have been something Ishamael told Rand, in which case it very well might be a lie he made up to convince Rand to stop fighting.

I don’t really believe the Dark One intends to keep any humans around if he manages to break free of his cage, but if he was going to have a Nae’blis, it makes sense that he would want it to be the Dragon/Dragon Reborn. Why wouldn’t he want the most powerful channeler to be his number one? But more to the point, of course he would want the Dragon turned to the Shadow! Lews Therin/Rand is the greatest threat to the Dark One remaining imprisoned, and if he is killed he can be reborn. Once he swears to the Dark One, he can be kept alive and controlled.

Oh. But that raises an interesting question. I just said two paragraphs up that it’s possible that the Dragon has gone over to the Shadow before. But if the Dragon did, then wouldn’t the Dark One have power over his soul forever? We know that souls of Darkfriends belong to the Dark One in death—Rand had to free Kari al’Thor from Ba’alzamon’s control, and the Dark One is able to resurrect those souls that belong to him, even though he apparently can’t create the bodies to put those souls into. Since Rand was born, and is not sworn or attached to the Shadow either way, there is either a time limit on how long the Dark One can hold onto a soul… or the Dragon has never, not once in all the Ages that have existed, sworn allegiance to the Dark One.

The thing I love about this chapter is how much world building we get, both on a macro and a micro level. We learn more about who Semirhage and Graendal were in the Age of Legends, which means a lot of tantalizing details about that time. (I’m still so curious about drugs and prescription medication in Lews Therin’s time.) But there are also new details about Rand’s time, such as the information Graendal tells Sammael about Shara. The way they handle their channelers is fascinating, if depressing, and shows that they are perhaps also aware of the bloodline issue when it comes to channelers; where the Aes Sedai fear they are culling the ability to channel out of the populace, the people of Shara have an established tradition of forcing channelers to maintain certain bloodlines. It’s upsetting for a lot of reasons, especially given that Graendal says that women who can channel can only marry the sons of women who can channel, but we also know those men are killed when they turn 21 and are completely isolated and uneducated their entire lives. That’s highly disturbing. And there is clearly a lot of fear surrounding the Ayyad, just as there is around Aes Sedai—but where the Aes Sedai have the oath rod, the Sharans have the Sh’botay and Sh’boan as rulers who dictate when and if channeling occurs, and who aren’t allowed to stay in power long enough to gain too much advantage from channeling.

I’m so curious as to why she wanted to tell Sammael about them. Narratively, it might have just been an excuse for Jordan to have fun with some worldbuilding, but then again it might be important in some way. Sammael thinks Graendal wants him to believe she has an interest in Shara, and therefore dismisses it. But Graendal’s misdirects have several layers, so it’s possible that she either wanted him to dismiss it, or that she wants to direct his attention there for some other reason. I mean, why did Graendal go through so much trouble just for a few minutes of deception? She must have had a compelling reason to want to draw Sammael’s attention to Shara in particular—if she just wanted a general distraction I imagine she could have come up with something a little bit less difficult to execute.

And I have to wonder how much the disappearance of its ruler is going to disrupt Shara, given that this same system of government has apparently gone on for almost three thousand years without a break? That sounds like a recipe for civil unrest at least, if not outright war and rebellion. Sammael and Graendal may think that Shara has no real role in the coming storm, but it sounds like the chaos is landing there anyway.

Which might have been Graendal’s purpose all along, though the section from her POV seems to suggest otherwise.

I also have confirmation this week that my suspicions about the Oath Rod were heading in the right direction—apparently the Oath Rod was used to bind criminals in the Age of Legends. Semirhage’s section also tells us that the Oath Rod shortens someone’s life: “to be bound never to know her pleasures again, and with that binding be able to see the end of life approach”

I’m willing to bet that the ageless blurring that the Aes Sedai experience comes from the use of the Oath Rod, and that the youthful look we see on Leane and Siuan is the result of their aging being naturally slowed by their connection to, or perhaps specifically by their use of, the One Power. Now that they are severed they would age normally, but what we are seeing now is what they would have looked like without the Oath Rod’s effects. It’s kind of horrifying to realize that the Aes Sedai are doing such a thing to themselves, using a device meant for criminals, shortening their lifespans in ways they can’t even imagine.

And speaking of imagination… are we sure Shaidar Haran is a Myrddraal? The Forsaken keep telling themselves that even though he’s different, he’s still a Myrddraal, but I’m not so sure. The Forsaken aren’t supposed to feel any of the hypnotic fear that the Myrddraal use so effectively on other people, but they all have a strong reaction to this one, something outside of ordinary fear. Something supernatural.

The Forsaken don’t know everything, by any stretch. Graendal’s argument to Sammael, that they should stand together like never before, is actually maybe the smartest thing any of the Forsaken have said so far. She doesn’t actually intend to do that, of course, but she’s speaking that truth because it carries a lot of weight. None of the Forsaken believed that Rand and the modern Aes Sedai could be any threat to them at all, yet Rand has done remarkable things, including killing several of them, and even the “primitive children” have tricks up their sleeves that none of the Age of Legends Aes Sedai knew.

I’m fascinated to know that the Warder/Aes Sedai Bond didn’t exist in the Age of Legends. But it makes sense, in a way. We’ve been repeatedly told that men and women working together with the One Power can accomplish so much more than channelers of one gender can alone, or even in groups. Only wielders of saidar have the ability to create links, but when the Breaking was over and only women could safely channel, the modern Aes Sedai had no male Aes Sedai to connect to. Perhaps they were desperate to find some way of filling that void, and developed the Bond as a replacement for the connection they once could have had with male channelers. After all, while Warders can’t bring saidin into the mix, they do provide a balance to the Aes Sedai. Aes Sedai are limited in how they can use the One Power as a weapon, so they have a Warder to do some of that work for them. The Warders in turn are granted some of the hardiness that the One Power seems to give to channelers, including a longer lifespan and the ability to sense Shadowspawn. As a unit, they are both able to do things they could not do on their own.

 

Next week we will cover chapters 7 and 8, in which Elayne and the Aes Sedai get into some trouble in the World of Dreams, and Nynaeve, well… she Nynaeves all over the place. Until then I hope you are all hanging in there and taking care of yourselves during this interminable January.

Sylas K Barret just can’t stop thinking about the new WoT insult he learned today. “I spit in your mother’s milk” is just… really evocative. Blech.

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