Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: A Question of Risks in Robert Jordan’s Lord of Chaos (Part 9)

Welcome back to Reading The Wheel of Time. I have to be honest, it feels like we’ve been reading Lord of Chaos for an entire turn of the Wheel—this is Part 9 already, and we’re only getting through Chapters 11 and 12! This is mostly down to how incredibly long that prologue was! However, I think I can also blame January 2022 for being the longest month in my personal living memory.

Time is subjective, but also it just keeps turning. I feel like Verin would have something practical and scholarly to say about that, but I don’t, so I’ll just wish you all a happy (belated) Valentine’s day and get on to our recap.

Verin lets out the breath she was holding as Rand leaves the inn. She considers how she warned Siuan and Moiraine about how dangerous he was, and now they are both probably dead. She considers irritably that almost  “seventy years of delicate work on her part” might be destroyed because of one man.

She turns her attention to the immediate problem at hand, comforting the Two Rivers girls as well as the maids. She struggles to convince the girls to go to their rooms—some want to leave Caemlyn immediately, while others are tremulously insisting that they want to see the city, and Bodewhin is determined to find her brother and get him away from Rand. Alanna uses the Power to make herself appear to grow as high as the ceiling and everyone scatters in terror. Verin sends Tomas to help soothe the innkeeper’s nerves as she coaxes the maids out from under the tables, then ushers Alanna back into the other room.

Verin watched [Alanna] for a few moments before speaking. It had taken her ten years to get over Balinor’s death and bond Tomas. Alanna’s emotions had been raw since Owein’s death, and she had held them in far too long. The occasional bouts of weeping she had allowed herself since departing the Two Rivers were not enough of a release.

She sets after Alanna with a series of questions meant to distract and disarm her. They discuss the fact that the rumors of Tar Valon rebels have been proven to be true, and Verin points out that Siuan’s knowledge about Rand must have had a role in bringing her down. She also points out that Elaida was Red Ajah, then swiftly moves on to ask what Alanna was thinking, bonding Rand that way. Alanna answers that it was the logical thing to do, and that it should have been done long ago. She insists that all three young men are too important to be allowed to run loose. Verin knows that Alanna was thinking about trying to bond Perrin while they were testing girls in the Two Rivers, but threats from Faile drove her off.

Very likely it had been frustration over that, plus the frayed state of her nerves, that had led to what she did with Rand. Not only bonding him, but doing so without his permission. That had not been done in hundreds of years.

Alanna is still shocked by Rand’s strength and the way he was able to shield them so easily. She’s dismissive of the rumors of his amnesty for male channelers, but Verin isn’t so sure. She brushes by Alanna’s horror at the idea of men being allowed to channel unchecked and focuses on laying out her plan. For once she’s grateful that Alanna’s overwrought emotions have made her less in control of herself—it makes her more amenable to Verin’s guidance.

Rand gallops back to the Palace, outpacing the Aiel and ignoring the people who have to leap out of his way as he races through the streets. He can still feel Alanna “as if she had crawled inside his head and taken up residence” and wonders if she can feel him the same way. Desperate to get away from her, he runs into the Great Hall and opens a gateway letting it close behind him before anyone can follow. Even all the way out by the farm, even grasping saidin and holding himself in the Void, he finds he can still feel Alanna, still knows exactly what direction she is in.

He realized he was still laughing. He did not seem able to stop. Well, it was funny. His fool pride. Overconfidence. It had gotten him in trouble before, and more than him. He had been so sure that he and the Hundred Companions could seal the Bore safely….

Rand shouts for everyone to get out of his head, but neither Alanna’s presence nor Lews Therin’s dissipates. Rand tells himself he will not give in, and that he will remember not to trust anyone from now on, while Lews Therin giggles that a man without trust might as well be dead.

Rand finds Taim training the students, teaching them to explode rocks and to shield themselves. They discuss how hard Taim is pushing the students, and Rand is incensed when he learns that Taim dismissed Haslin, the old former Master of the Sword for the Queen’s Guards. Taim tells Rand that learning swordplay is a waste of time for men who can channel, but Rand won’t hear it. He insists that the men need to be a part of the world, and reminds Taim that there are moments when you might be shielded or otherwise unable to channel. Taim isn’t convinced but he agrees to do as the Lord Dragon commands. Rand warns him about the Aes Sedai in the city, and Taim offers to get rid of them, but Rand forbids it. Taim makes an argument for Rand allowing him to go out recruiting channelers—he outlines a plan for using a gateway to travel to different villages recruiting men to follow the Dragon Reborn, then testing them and sending those who can’t channel on to Caemlyn to start building Rand his own (non-Aiel) army. Rand hesitates, worrying about Taim’s aggressive nature and what might happen if he runs across an Aes Sedai. Rand can’t afford to lose him, but he also can’t afford the estimated six years it will take for his channelers to match the White Tower in numbers. Taim promises that, with his new recruiting strategy amplifying Rand’s preternatural good luck, he’ll be able to recruit that many men in under a year.

Six years to match the Tower. If Aes Sedai did not find this place first and destroy it and the students before they knew enough to defend themselves. Or less than a year. Finally he nodded. Lews Therin’s voice was a mad buzz in the distance. “You will have your horses.”

Meanwhile, Nynaeve and Elayne have been unsuccessful at finding a way through the weave preventing evesdropping that has been erected around the Little Tower while the Hall in Salidar deliberates over Elaida’s message. Moghedien has told them it should be possible to spin a hole through a ward, but after three days of trying the girls have had no luck. Nynaeve insists that Elayne wear the a’dam while she goes off to teach ter’angreal making to the Aes Sedai and then her novice class, but regrets the decision when she realizes that she’s never been alone with Moghedien while not wearing the bracelet herself.

Moghedien needles Nynaeve, suggesting that they would all be safer if they went to Rand in Caemlyn, that sooner or later someone is going to start asking how Nynaeve is making all her “discoveries” even though she can only channel when angry. Nynaeve eventually commands her to clean the room and leaves, doing her best to appear unflustered.

“How much time do you have?” Moghedien said before she reached the door. The woman could have been asking whether the water was hot for tea. “A few more days at most before they send their answer back to Tar Valon? A few hours? How will they balance Rand al’Thor, and even Elaida’s supposed crimes, against making their precious White Tower whole again?”

Outside, Nynaeve considers how wrong she had been to think that Moghedien was beaten, about how much she and Elayne have said in front of the woman. She hurries off to find Birgitte, passing Gareth Bryne sitting outside the Hall’s meeting place. The streets are quiet and tense—everyone has been instructed to be careful of what they say around Tarna. Nynaeve does hear one man loudly declaring that he thinks that Elaida is a fine Amyrlin. The man is probably anxious about how Elaida discovered Salidar so quickly, and suspects (as many do) that Elaida has informants somewhere in the settlement.

She finds Birgitte watching some children play, along with Areina, the Hunter for the Horn who Nynaeve and Elayne brought to Salidar. Areina is disdainful of Nynaeve after having learned that she is not a full sister, and resents Birgitte’s friendship with Nynaeve and Elayne. Nynaeve unsuccessfully tries to convince Birgitte to secretly procure horses for the three of them while keeping it secret from Uno and the Shienarans. Then she tries even more unsuccessfully to convince Birgitte to spy on the Hall during their deliberations. Birgitte doesn’t think it’s worth the risk of being caught, though Nynaeve is afraid that the Hall might decide to turn her and Elayne over to Elaida and place them under guard before they can learn of the decision and escape.

She’s interrupted by Nicola, another of the women who came with them to Salidar. Nicola is a novice now, with great potential in the One Power. She informs Nynaeve that Janya and Delana—Nynaeve is supposed to be copying for them—are looking for her. Despite being told that the Aes Sedai were vexed by Nynaeve’s tardiness, she finds them offering her tea instead. They don’t do any copying at all, as it turns out, and the two Aes Sedai begin grilling Nynaeve for information about Rand. Nynaeve has already told everything she can think of about Rand—she doesn’t think anything she could say could hurt him, and she’s tried to make the Aes Sedai see him as a man, not just the Dragon Reborn—but the Aes Sedai still grill her for hours.

By the time they release her, Nynaeve is already late for her daily appointment with Theodrin. But as she passes by the Little Tower, where the Hall is still in session, she can’t resist ducking into the alleyway.

For a moment she hesitated, wiping sweaty palms on her dress, remembering what Birgitte had said. She knew she was a coward at heart, much as she hated the fact. Once she had thought herself brave enough. Not a hero, like Birgitte, but brave enough. The world had taught her better.

She wishes that one day she would get to know what it was like to be brave, like Birgitte or Elayne, but she still steps through the ward to prevent eavesdropping with the Power, pressing herself up against the wall. Eventually she finds an open window and is shocked to discover Tarna herself, in conversation with Sheriam, and her five cohorts.

Tarna scoffs at a mention of the Hall—she’s aware that the sitters in Salidar follow Sheriam and her companions’ directions, not the other way around—and asks if they’re certain of the message she should take back to Elaida. Nynaeve hears the others repeat that the Hall has asked for more time, and that surely Elaida can wait a bit longer for their answer, in the interest of having the Tower whole again. Tarna bangs out of the room, and the others debate how long they have been waiting, and how important it is that all “the proper forms” are followed to the letter. Carlinya asks how long they dare wait.

“As long as we must.” That from Beonin. “I have not waited this long for the biddable child just to abandon all our plans now.”

For some reason that produced a silence, although Nynaeve did hear someone murmur “biddable” again as if examining the word. What child? A novice or Accepted? It made no sense. Sisters never waited on novices or Accepted.

Sheriam tells Carlinya that they have gone too far to turn back now, but Carlinya points out that one mistake could end with all their heads on pikes. Aniya wonders if it will be Elaida, the Hall, or Rand who puts them there.

They all leave the room, and Nynaeve is vexed to know the answer to Elaida’s missive but not the question. The ward disappears and Nynaeve gets to her feet hastily, only to realize that Theodrin is standing there in the alley, watching her. Nynaeve can’t think of anything to say to explain what she’s doing, so she says nothing, and is surprised when Theodrin only starts talking about her plans for the day’s training.

Nynaeve glanced at her. No questions? No accusations? The way this day had been going she could not believe she was getting off so lightly.

Neither saw the woman watching them from a second-story window.

 

Ohh, a little mystery there at the end. Jordan does love a woman watching from a window, be it one of the Forsaken or just a disapproving wife, as we saw with Sora Grady watching Rand at the farm. I wonder which one this mysterious woman is!

I’m happy to have some Verin POV again after not spending much time with her for the last several books. She’s such an interesting and mysterious character, and I really hope she sticks around for a while. Maybe long enough for us to get a few questions answered, such as whether or not she is a dark friend. It’s been a while, but way back in The Great Hunt she deliberately lied to Ingtar about being sent by Moiraine, or at least appeared to, by telling him that Moiraine sent her to help them in their hunt. Now, it is possible that she didn’t lie; we know Moiraine didn’t trust Verin very much, so it’s unlikely that she considered the idea of sending Verin and then forgot about it. But it is possible Verin found some interpretation of Moiraine’s words that allowed her to believe she was being sent, or had permission to go after them. Aes Sedai can say things that are untrue, after all, as long as they believe them to be true. This is how the Aes Sedai in Salidar can tell people that Logain’s story about being recruited by the Black Ajah is true—in reality it’s a story concocted by Siuan, but they don’t know that. So it seems possible that Verin really tried to take what Moiraine said in a way that favored what Verin wanted to do. Self-delusion can be a powerful thing, and we know from her POV in The Shadow Rising that she’d do just about anything to keep the three ta’veren boys in her sight. At one point she even considers that she’d marry them to do it.

I suppose it’s also possible that Verin isn’t bound by the oaths for some non-Black Ajah reason. I have no idea what that could possibly be, but now that we know that the Oath Rod was originally used on criminals back in the Age of Legends, I’m wondering if there won’t be other revelations about the Rod and the Oaths that complicate what we know about them. Ever since Egwene’s experience during her Accepted Trials I’ve assumed that the future she saw really did foreshadow both the fact that she will become Amyrlin and the fact that she will not have to swear on the Oath Rod. And both those predictions seem to be coming true. (More on that later.)

All this being said, it’s still pretty likely that Verin is Black Ajah. This quote in particular certainly speaks volumes, and reminds me of some of the musings we’ve had from the Forsaken about their early experiences joining the Dark One.

… she had lived too long, been through too much, to allow herself to be dismayed. First things first; take care of what can be done now before worrying too long over what might never be. That lesson had been forced on her, but she had taken it to heart.

I really, really want to know what this passage is referring to. And it’s doubly intriguing because the narrative is playing a long game with her. There are plenty of other characters who have been revealed to be Darkfriends, but generally there isn’t a huge space between when we start getting the first hints and when we find out the truth of their identity. That makes Verin a little more intriguing that your average Black Ajah member, and it means that Jordan handles her POV sections the way he handles Rand’s—we still get emotion and an insight into how they think, but we’re kept at a distance, shut out of some of their thoughts and plans. I’d give a lot to know what Verin’s ​​“seventy years of delicate work” were, and how she got started on them so far ahead of Rand’s birth. We know from New Spring that Black Ajah learned of the Dragon’s return after Gitara’s Foretelling, probably from torturing Tamra or one of the searchers. Which means Verin had some clue even the Black Ajah didn’t possess, long before anyone else knew that Tarmon Gai’don would happen within their lifetimes.

I suppose, being Brown, Verin might have stumbled across some information hidden in the White Tower that allowed her to predict when Tarmon Gai’don would come, or helped her decipher parts of the Karaethon Cycle with more certainty. Or maybe she’s just spent more time on these things, and she’s clearly incredibly intelligent. She also possessed Egwene’s stone ring for a while and could have learned all sorts of things in Tel’aran’rhiod. None of this directly suggests she’s Black Ajah, either—we know full well that Aes Sedai are secretive and manipulative, even with each other. Sometimes especially with each other. I was tempted to look at her manipulation of Alanna as a clue, but her handling of Alanna isn’t really out of character for any Aes Sedai, be she Elaida or Siuan.

And Verin is such an interesting person. She seems to have keyed into Perrin’s personal struggles with violence—she noticed that he exchanged the axe for the hammer, for example, and even warned him to be wary of Alanna, no doubt picking up on the Green’s desire to bond Perrin. And I love the way she pretends to be scattered and uninterested in the real world when that is so clearly (to the reader, anyway) a front. Other Browns do this too—I feel like Janya was doing it while she and Delana were interrogating Nynaeve—but Verin is the true master, no doubt about it. If she is a Darkfriend, I really want to know what her motivation is—perhaps she wants to live forever so she can learn as much as she wants? She doesn’t seem to have any ambitions to the kind of power and control most Darkfriends want, but, like, Asmodean didn’t want to be ruler or anything, he just wanted to be a famous Bard forever. And if Verin isn’t Black Ajah, then there’s something else even more interesting going on with her.

So I am not sure about Verin, but I still kind of think Sheriam is Black Ajah. I’m not sure why, exactly—there’s more evidence to convict Verin, really, but I keep coming back to that dead gray man they found in Sheriam’s bed, and how much that feels like some kind of message. It sure would be bad news for the Light if I’m right, with Sheriam the de facto leader of the Little Tower and Alviarin secretly running things in the White Tower, under Elaida’s nose. But either way, this brings us to the question of Nynaeve’s eavesdropping and the “biddable child” that Sheriam and co. have been waiting for so long. I figure it has to be Egwene, and that their plan is to install Egwene as Amyrlin of the Little Tower, in the hopes that this a) ties Rand to the Aes Sedai in Salidar, giving them control over the Dragon Reborn and added legitimacy as the “true” White Tower and b) allows Sheriam and co. to control and dictate from behind the scenes, as they seem to be doing now.

One wonders if any of this was Siuan’s suggestion. It seems a very Siuan-like plan, and since she’s been doing a lot of pulling Sheriam’s strings I could see her hoping to continue doing that via Egwene as well. Given that Egwene saw herself becoming Amyrlin, I think that I might be on the right track here.

And since the Oath Rod is in the White Tower, Egwene won’t be able to swear on it. I wonder if they’re going to make her a full Aes Sedai, or if they’re going to make some other ruling where she’s above Accepted but below full Aes Sedai, like they’ve been doing with Theodrin and the others in Salidar. It seems like that would make Egwene less legitimate as an Amyrlin, but since they refuse to raise Theodrin and Faolain without the ability to take the final trials or swear the Three Oaths, I’m not sure how they’re going to handle that. Morvrin says that the “forms must be met,” and the “proper ceremonies must be followed,” which makes sense—the Aes Sedai in Salidar don’t want to give anyone any more ammunition to declare their hall and Amyrlin as illegitimate than already exists. However, unless I’m completely off the mark about Egwene, I can’t see how they’re going to manage without breaking some pretty sacred customs in either one direction or the other.

And then there’s poor Nynaeve, who has learned so much over the last few books but still feels just as trapped and frightened as she ever did. I can certainly understand why Moghedien puts her on edge, why she’s frustrated by Birgitte’s seeming unconcern. Nynaeve has felt more or less powerless ever since she left the Two Rivers, and none of her accomplishments seem to have taken the edge off that feeling. Rand, Perrin, Mat, and Egwene all have their struggles and fears and moments of failure, but they also are aware of their successes and have learned to focus more on their strengths. Plus, all four have developed leadership skills that they’ve come to embrace, even though there is pain and reservation there. Rand’s awareness of how much he has grown and changed may have made him careless in interacting with Alanna and Verin, but he isn’t wrong that he’s done some incredible things, isn’t wrong to believe in his own power and the strength of his plans. Perrin might hate being the new Lord of the Two Rivers, but he’s learning to live with the personal cost of leadership, and was always aware that turning his back or refusing responsibility would have brought an even worse outcome than the deaths of some men under his command. Egwene has started taking on a leadership role without even realizing she’s doing it, while also possessing the strength to yield to the Wise Ones and even to Rand when she has to. And finally Mat has accepted the direction that fate wants to push him—he’s not happy about it, but he’s not trying to run away from himself anymore.

But Nynaeve has found none of this. She has done incredible things—collaring Moghedien in Tel’aran’rhiod not least of all—and chosen to face terrible dangers to protect others. And yet when she considers herself, she sees only a coward, only someone who can’t channel the One Power whenever she wants. Her frustrations and discouragement are understandable, of course, but there’s a big difference between seeing both your strengths and weaknesses and only seeing your weaknesses. It’s a wonder to me that Nynaeve can keep going, keep fighting the way she does, given that this is how she feels about herself. When I get that depressed, I am definitely not nearly as productive.

Also, as someone who gets stomach aches when I’m anxious and who eats peppermint to help, I really relate to the goosemint leaves thing.

And then there’s poor Rand, who just wants to have his own mind all to himself for five minutes. I know the mere existence of the Dragon Reborn, not to mention the fact of a man channeling, is terrifying to everyone in this world, but it’s hard not to feel like everyone overreacted to Rand’s little display. All he did was pick the girls up and yell a little! I know that’s not entirely fair of me, but given the almost reckless abandon Alanna has about using her power to bond people without consent and to scare the girls just to get them to obey more quickly, I certainly can’t judge Rand for losing his temper. Both he and Alanna are emotionally distraught, and I liked how Verin’s narration reminded us that bottling up your emotions isn’t good for you and leads to a loss of control. But I also thought that Rand had a decent amount of self control in the face of what was done to him, and I have a lot of empathy that the moment where he struggled was in facing memories of the past he has lost and the fact that people he cared for now see him as a monster. It probably seems pretty unfair to him that other people would weep and cry and deny the truth of who he is when he himself cannot.

It was interesting to see Alanna pull the same trick that Moiraine did in Baerlon, way back in The Eye of the World. We didn’t know anything about how the One Power works back then, so seeing the same trick now, seeing how Verin can see through the illusion and watch the flows Alanna is weaving, is really cool.

It’s also interesting to see that Taim has convinced Rand to see things his way. I talked a lot last week about how Rand knows that he has to take risks, even desperate ones, in order to accomplish everything he needs to accomplish before the Last Battle. But Rand is aware of how dangerous some of these risks are. He told Taim to push the recruits, and yet questions the safety of what Taim is teaching them. He’s worried about the risk letting Taim out in the world where he might be discovered by Aes Sedai, and he also doesn’t trust Taim, both through his own instincts and Lews Therin’s urgings. And you know, I think he’s right to. We never did find out how Taim escaped from the Aes Sedai, a feat Logain couldn’t manage, and that was pretty shocking for everyone to learn. And he’s kind of cagey about the subject here, avoiding admitting exactly how the escape was managed.

I can’t help but think about how the captured Joiya claimed that Liandrin intended to rescue Taim and set him up as the Dragon Reborn to sow chaos and destruction in Rand’s name. This was ostensibly a lie—Liandrin was actually going after the bracelets and collar, as Amico claimed—and one that basically follows what Taim was doing before his capture anyway. But I still can’t help wondering if there’s something else here that we’re missing. Plus, Taim kind of feels like a gift that’s too good to be true—he can do all the teaching Rand needs, he delivers a seal, and he’s crazy ambitious yet has decided that following those ambitions means playing second-fiddle to the real Dragon Reborn. That’s an awfully pragmatic approach, and one I’m a bit suspicious of. On the other hand, I’m tempted to see Lews Therin’s panic about the guy as a narrative red herring—Lews Therin was betrayed by a lot of his friends, so it makes sense he would see them all in Taim, just as he sees Ilyena in all the women Rand gets close to.

We’ve got two more chapters (13 and 14) up next week, in which Nynaeve struggles with her block and teaches Elayne how to use need to find things in Tel’aran’rhiod, and we finally get to catch up with Egwene. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to it. See you then!

Sylas K Barrett thinks that Birgitte having the hots for Uno is really cute.

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