Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: A Question of Surrender in Robert Jordan’s Lord of Chaos (Part 10)

This week in Reading The Wheel of Time, we’re tackling Chapters 13 and 14 of Lord of Chaos. We’re spending a lot of time in Tel’aran’rhiod this week, and we finally get to see how Egwene is doing. Also Tarna Feir is creepy, Nynaeve is stubborn (no surprise there) and Elayne makes plans for some ter’angreal.

Can I just say, it would be a lot easier if the collective group of channeling enhancers were just called angreal, with ter’angreal and sa’angreal as subcategories, so one didn’t have to type out all three every time you want to talk about the group. But that’s a minor complaint. Let’s get on to the recap.

Nynaeve is drying herself off after Theodrin tried to shock her into surrendering by dumping a bucket of water over her head. Nynaeve reacted by punching Theodrin—and got punched back. Theodrin points out that Nynaeve’s need to be angry to channel goes against everything that they are taught about saidar, to which one must surrender before one can guide it. But however hard Nynaeve tries to surrender, she still hangs on with her fingernails unless she’s angry enough to forget to. Nynaeve thinks she should leave and go take care of something she actually believes that she can do, but she really does want Theodrin to succeed in breaking her block. They heal each other’s bruises before Nynaeve leaves, with instructions not to sleep that night.

Nynaeve finds Elayne, and tells her that she thinks Moghedien is right, and they should run away to Caemlyn. She also tells Elayne what she overheard about the Hall asking for more time. Elayne points out that this means the Hall could still decide either way, and is confident they can handle any questions or problems that might come up in the interim. Suddenly Tarna Feir uses saidar to slam the door open.

Tarna tells Elayne that the Amyrlin has a special place in her heart for Elayne, and for Andor, and urges her to return with Tarna to the Tower. Elayne responds that she will return when the rest do, and Tarna tells her to leave so that she can speak with “the wilder” alone. Once Elayne is gone, Tarna adopts a different manner, casual and friendly, but Nynaeve notices that none of it reaches Tarna’s eyes. She tells Nynaeve not to be offended, that Tarna is a wilder too and it took her forever to get over her block as well.

Galina Casban beat my block out of me herself. She knew my Ajah long before I did, and took a personal interest in me. She always does in those she thinks will choose Red.” She shook her head, laughing, eyes like frozen knives.

She tells Nynaeve that she is even more important than Elayne because of her connection to Rand. She also asks about Egwene, and insists that “the Amyrlin” intends to give Rand the honor he deserves. She tells Nynaeve to come back to the White Tower with her, and demands Nynaeve spend the night considering rather than refusing right away.

When Elayne doesn’t return after Tarna leaves, Nynaeve goes looking for her. She finds her having just borrowed the ter’angreal rings from Siuan. Elayne proposes that they go to Tel’aran’rhiod and use their need to find something that will help them convince the Hall to choose Rand over making the Tower whole. She eventually convinces Nynaeve to agree to stay in Salidar if they find something useful. It’s not until she’s settled in bed with the ring on a cord around her neck that Nynaeve remembers Theodrin’s instructions not to sleep.

In the dream, Nynaeve and Elayne link hands, close their eyes, and feel the world shift. Opening them, they find themselves in Tar Valon, on a garbage-filled street that Nynaeve recognizes—she briefly glimpsed Leane in a window here, while chasing after her on Sheriam’s orders. They see a few people dreaming themselves in and out of Tel’aran’rhiod, and none of the dreams are pleasant. Elayne remarks that she doesn’t like this, before they close their eyes and shift again.

They were in the Tower, in one of the tapestry-hung curving hallways. A plump novice-clad girl popped into existence not three paces away, her big eyes going wider when she saw them. “Please,” she whimpered. “Please?” And was gone.

Suddenly Elayne exclaims that she sees Egwene, but she’s gone before Nynaeve can look. They shift again, and this time they find themselves in a storeroom in the Tower, surrounded by items they deduce to be ter’angreal, angreal, and sa’angreal whose purpose no one has figured out. Knowing that they could never reach whatever is in here, Nynaeve proposes they try again, this time fixing it in their minds that they need something that isn’t in Tar Valon.

They find themselves in a dawn-lit city full of canals, then on a dirty, claustrophobic street. Finally, they find themselves in a dusty storeroom. Elayne eliminates the dust with a thought, and they try one more shift, which brings them in front of a large, square chest. It’s full of apparent junk, so they try one more time, reaching into the chest with eyes closed. Their hands land on something large, covered in rotting cloth, which turns out to be a huge crystal bowl, shallow and carved with swirling clouds.

Nynaeve nearly drops the bowl when it starts to turn blue and the clouds start to move, but it is only Elayne channeling. She tells Nynaeve that the bowl is a ter’angreal that has something to do with the weather, but that she isn’t quite strong enough to work it by herself. Elayne thinks she also felt other angreal, possibly even sa’angreal, in the room.

They go back out to explore in the city, quickly becoming thoroughly lost in the streets, which have few identifying landmarks or even signs in windows. Elayne decides that it must be Ebou Dar, but they realize that they could never find their way back to the storeroom even if they were able to go to that city.

They step out of the dream, and Elayne tells Nynaeve that it is their duty to turn over such a cache of ter’angreal, angreal, and sa’angreal into the right hands, as well as the weather ter’angreal. And if that doesn’t make the Hall support Rand, she’ll keep hunting for something that will. Then she falls asleep, leaving Nynaeve alone to worry in the darkness.

Meanwhile, it turns out that Elayne really did see Egwene in the Dream. The moment Egwene caught sight of them she leaped back into the liminal space between Tel’aran’rhiod and the waking world. Some part of her had wanted to reach out to them, but she’s had nightmares of disaster resulting from such a connection. She wonders what the two were doing there in a part of the Tower that held nothing of interest, and wonders too if the Aes Sedai in Salidar know that two strange women are also wandering the World of Dreams.

She floats comfortably in the darkness, observing that there are dreams of people from worlds she does not know as well as the world she does. Egwene is frustrated knowing that she could learn so much more with a Wise One Dreamwalker guiding her instead of having to puzzle everything out on her own.

Besides teaching herself more about Tel’aran’rhiod, Egwene’s main purpose in the Dream has been to pick up scraps of information about what’s going on in the world, since the Wise Ones have been holding back, telling her she needs to rest. She reflects on the other two women she has seen in Tel’aran’rhiod, one who appears solid and able to touch the Dream on her own, while the other appears misty and must be using a ter’angreal. Egwene suspects that woman might be Black Ajah, but had decided following her wasn’t worth the risk, especially since she can’t tell anyone anything she finds out. Seeing so many new people in the Dream makes her nervous, and she’s caught glimpses of Rand, and Perrin, and even Lan in Tel’aran’rhiod as well.

As Egwene tries to decide what to do next, one particular point of light catches her attention. No matter where she looks it seems to return to the center of her vision, then it begins to draw her in, even when she wills it to go away. She finds herself in Gawyn’s dream, chained to a column. At first she thinks he is dreaming of holding her captive, then Rand appears, looking larger than life and bearing an evil look, and the two fight. Gawyn defeats Rand and kills him, then rescues Egwene from her bonds.

Egwene finds herself acting out her part in the dream, swooning gratefully into Gawyn’s arms. She tries to picture herself outside of the dream, tries to maintain her sense of identity as the true Egwene even as her body behaves as the dream dictates. The scene shifts to a hilltop picnic, where Gawyn lays Egwene down on a blanket and proceeds to profess his love to her in poetic language. Then the scene shifts and repeats, and Gawyn claims to have no right to speak to her since Galad is in love with her. It shifts and repeats again; this time he tells her he loves her hesitantly and in plain language.

“You sweet idiot,” she laughed softly. “I love you” I love you, echoed in the part of her that was really her. She felt the barrier vanishing, had a moment to realize she did not care, and then there was only one Egwene again, an Egwene who happily twined her arms around Gawyn’s neck.

Struggling to stay awake, Nynaeve decides to go out for a walk when suddenly a stool flings itself into her back. Outside there is screaming and crashing, as inside Elayne and Nynaeve’s beds begin to toss about. Nynaeve recognizes that this must be a bubble of evil, and briskly tells Elayne to go rouse anyone who is still asleep. She runs into the next room where she tries unsuccessfully to save two women who are being strangled by their bedclothes. She is unable to access saidar, but Elayne arrives just in time to pull the blankets back with the Power. She reports that no one else is badly hurt, and they help the dizzy women outside. Nynaeve finds a night watchman lying in the middle of the street, dead, and she wants to scream in anger at the waste of it. Anaiya arrives, noting that Nynaeve has managed to grasp saidar, and instructs her and Elayne to open themselves to linking.

The Aes Sedai seem to believe that Sammael is attacking, and creating linked groups is part of the plan they have made for such an event. Nynaeve tries twice to open herself to the link and can’t quite manage it.

The third time was like being seized by the scruff of the neck. Saidar swept through Nynaeve to Anaiya, and when she attempted to pull back—it was her, she realized, not the flow itself—her flow was held, melting into a larger.

Nynaeve finds herself filled with a sense of awe, a feeling of being part of something greater than herself. She can’t tell which of the emotions she feels are hers and which belong to the other women in the link, but she feels close to all of them. She’s not angry anymore either, but saidar keeps flowing, even when she notices Nicola in the link and tries to pull back. Elayne joins the link as well, after carefully slipping the a’dam bracelet from her wrist, and they continue on, picking up other Accepted and novices as they go.

Suddenly Nicola spoke, sounding half-asleep. “The lion sword, the dedicated spear, she who sees beyond. Three on the boat, and he who is dead yet lives. The great battle done, but the world not done with battle. The land divided by the return, and the guardians balance the servants. The future teeters on the edge of a blade.”

Nicola doesn’t seem to register anything of what she said and Anaiya is more concerned with dealing with the problems at hand. They handle all the problems they find, stopping items from flying about and rescuing those who need it, but they find dead people too, and Nynaeve is frustrated and furious until eventually she loses herself in the feeling of the link.

She’s caught by surprise when Anaiya eventually releases the link, and even though it’s only been about an hour, Nynaeve feels exhausted. Again Nynaeve and Elayne try to explain that it wasn’t Sammael but a bubble of evil that caused all the mayhem, but Anaiya brushes that aside, as well as their attempts to tell her about the bowl. She starts sending the most exhausted girls back to bed and selecting others to help with Healing the injured, picking Elayne for the latter, and Nynaeve for the former. Although Nynaeve catches sight of Theodrin, she tells herself she will go to sleep anyway.

 

The theme of surrender is really strong in these two chapters. First, Nynaeve struggles with the fact that channeling saidar requires that one first surrender to the One Power. Then, Gawyn’s dream catches Egwene up, forcing her, despite her burgeoning skill as a dreamwalker, to surrender to the dream and be transmuted into the dream version of herself. Finally, Nynaeve experiences a different kind of surrender to the One Power by allowing herself to be open to linking.

And really, I think you could even argue that using need in Tel’aran’rhiod is a form of surrender—instead of directing your own travel, you give the Dream a sense of what you need and let it take you instead. The fact that you have to close your eyes to use this technique really drives home this point. While using need you could end up anywhere, including somewhere that might kill you, yet you have to take each step blindly.

I really liked that Theodrin named the contradiction with Nynaeve’s block, and it helped me figure out a little bit more of how opening to saidar actually works, and what anger is really doing for Nynaeve. Theodrin specifically says that she’s seen Nynaeve try to surrender, but that she always stops herself from fully letting go unless she’s angry enough to forget to hold on. So it isn’t that Nynaeve’s anger is overcoming her block—it’s that her anger is distracting her from the fear, which is actually what is keeping her blocked. This actually makes a lot of sense, and it’s consistent with the lesson that the narrative seems to be building for Nynaeve.

It’s interesting to see how Nynaeve views herself as a coward in so many unjustified ways, and yet is largely unaware of the areas in which she is most held back and ruled by her own fear. As I mentioned last week, she doesn’t give herself credit for any of the things that she has done in the face of her fear, nor does she recognize that other people also feel the kinds of terror that she experiences. She still thinks that Elayne and Birgitte are fearless, despite evidence to the contrary, even after Birgitte told Nynaeve outright that it was sensible to be afraid of Moghedien, and that she herself would run and hide if she ever thought Moghedien was looking for her. All our heroes have experienced moments of terror so far in the story, and some of them even have been frustrated by their fear, but no one is nearly as hard on themselves as Nynaeve is.

And yet, she doesn’t understand that fear is her true block. She knows she’s not good at surrendering, but I don’t think she’s connected her desire to run away from difficult, painful things as a refusal to surrender. She really feels like she’s trying in her sessions with Theodrin. But as long as she has that desire to flee in the back of her mind, as long as some part of her thinks that she should give up and just accept that her block will always be there, she isn’t fully surrendering.

She was understandably upset by Tarna’s story about having her block beaten out of her. Remembering how Elaida “helped” Moiraine and Siuan train for their Trials, I can imagine that this wasn’t considered an over-the-line way of breaking someone’s block (though it is perhaps telling that both instances were perpetrated by a member of the Red Ajah). The Aes Sedai set a lot of stock by corporal punishment, but I think such methods would be exactly the wrong way to engage with Nynaeve’s particular problem. The fear and pain of such an experience would just encourage her to hang on harder to the small amount of her situation she could control. Either that, or she’d be so furious at the indignation that she’d just find saidar through that protective anger, as she usually does. Not that I think shock is going to work either—we can see that anger is Nynaeve’s first impulse there as well.

Nynaeve just takes everything so personally. And everything is her responsibility, too. She often holds herself responsible for the suffering of others, even when she has no real reason to consider herself to blame, as when she finds the watchman dead in the street. For all she knows, he was killed at the same moment she was struck by the stool, but her first instinct upon finding him is to think that she might have been able to save his life, if only she’d been quicker. The only other person who experiences this level of distress and sense of being responsible for everything that happens, whether they were there or not, is Rand. But Rand is a literal instrument of the Light, a man upon whose shoulders rests the the fate of the entire world, and who is held by everyone around him as responsible for most of what happens, for good or ill. Nynaeve has arrived at this way of thinking entirely on her own.

In many ways it’s an admirable impulse, and one befitting an Aes Sedai. We’ve seen the ways in which the Aes Sedai view themselves as superior or more important than those around them, which is contrary to their stated mission of protectors and servants of the Light. Nynaeve’s sense of responsibility to others might be helpful to her, but right now it is ruling her in an unhelpful way, I think. She needs to learn the lessons Perrin and Rand have had to learn: You can’t save everyone, and the more responsibility you have, the more deaths will be tied to you in some way.

Perhaps that’s another fear that is holding Nynaeve back. If she breaks her block she’ll be ready to be raised to Aes Sedai, or at least to the not-quite Aes Sedai level that people like Theodrin and Faolain have reached. In addition to the fact that Nynaeve still isn’t quite sure how she feels about the Aes Sedai (she certainly doesn’t trust them), becoming a full sister will come with a lot of power, and a lot of responsibilities. She’s already vexed and being tied down—how much more will she be if she commits herself fully to the White Tower and the shawl?

But Nynaeve’s experience linked with Anaiya and the others provides some useful context as well. She has a sense of being a part of something greater than herself, and it’s more than just the expected feeling of awe that comes from channeling the One Power. Nynaeve is terrified of connecting with people—which is exactly what you would expect from a person whose self-esteem and confidence are largely just a front. We see how she reacts when she notices Nicola studying her. She can’t draw back because her connection to saidar is controlled by Anaiya now, not Nynaeve herself, but it still shows how Nynaeve handles channeling. When she feels threatened, when she even perceives the possibility of a threat, she pulls back into herself, shutting herself off from the person, or the situation, or from herself. And that is also what happens when she attempts to channel saidar.

All this isn’t to say that the key to Nynaeve wielding saidar is kicking this habit forever. Theodrin said that it only takes one time channeling past your block to break it forever. Nynaeve only has to completely surrender once to the True Source, after which she won’t bring that particular habit to bear while embracing saidar, but probably will still struggle with it in other areas of her life.

I think my favorite bit in these chapters is when Elayne is telling Nynaeve about Ebou Dar.

“You would like Ebou Dar, Nynaeve. Ebou Dari Wise Women know more about herbs than anybody. They can cure anything. They have to, because Ebou Dari fight duels over a sneeze, noble or common, men or women.” Elayne giggled. “Thom says there used to be leopards here, but they left because they found Ebou Dari too touchy to live with.”

Sounds like our favorite former Wisdom would be right at home there! I can absolutely imagine Nynaeve being down to fight a duel whenever someone pisses her off. Well, if she wasn’t a healer, anyway.

I do have a lot of questions about Nynaeve and Elayne’s assumptions about what the Salidar Aes Sedai are planning. While it appears that the Hall is still undecided about whether to return to Elaida or not, I think their reply to Tarna is actually stalling for time. We know that Sheriam and co. are waiting for “the biddable child” who is very probably Egwene and who they are most likely planning to make their Amyrlin in exile. I do think that Logain’s story about being recruited by Elaida and the reds, as well as the general sense that Elaida will not be merciful to those she deems her enemies (i.e. most everybody, especially the blues) will keep the Aes Sedai from reuniting with the White Tower. But I could be wrong, and there’s certainly enough at stake for Elayne and Nynaeve’s nervousness, their belief that the balance could tip either way, to make a lot of sense.

I’m really concerned about Tar Valon, though. This isn’t the first time that a character in Tel’aran’rhiod has noticed garbage in the streets, but this scene really shows that things are bad in city. It’s not just the physical state of the surroundings, either. Ever single person Nynaeve and Elayne see while they’re there seems to be having a horrific nightmare, from the man falling, to the woman in the torn dress, to the begging novice, sends a very serious signal that all is not well. Plus, there are the rats. We’ve known since The Eye of the World what a lot of rats in a city portends.

I’m not sure what to make of Egwene’s experience in Gawyn’s dreams. I’m not sure if the point is that she gets drawn in because some part of her wants to be, or if there’s some other power at work. If Egwene does really have feelings for Gawyn, perhaps she went to his dream subconsciously, even though her conscious mind was trying to stay away. The section ends with her telling Gawyn she loves him both as dream Egwene and as herself, but that could just be a sign that her true self had been subsumed by the dream version, just as it was when she got caught in Rhuarc’s dream and became a child. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see, but I do have a lot of questions if it turns out that Egwene has her own romantic feelings for Gawyn—once again we’ll have a character suddenly be in love with someone without any apparent buildup or character development.

I’m not surprised that Gawyn loves Egwene, though. That’s been pretty clear from the start, and since we’ve had a few POVs from him, I find his love more convincing and real than Galad’s. But then, Galad hardly comes off as a full person. And the way that Gawyn, Egwene, and Rand all seem different in Gawyn’s dream is really interesting. It makes sense that someone’s dreams would show their perception of things, rather than the objective truth of them. The people we love always look especially beautiful in our eyes, and many people see themselves as less good-looking than they are—especially people who have hot siblings.

And once again, Jordan’s dramatic irony is working overtime. Poor Egwene is frightened to see two strange women in Tel’aran’rhiod, unable to recognize Siuan and Leane. She is frustrated that she can’t warn the Salidar Aes Sedai, and unaware that she doesn’t need to. If she just talked to Elayne and Nynaeve, she would know all this, but for some indistinct reason she’s keeping her journeys into the World of Dreams a secret from them.

Okay, not exactly an indistinct reason. Egwene has apparently had one of her vaguely prophetic dreams that approaching the two will cause something bad to happen. But neither she nor the reader have much to go on there.

I can understand why Egwene feels impatient with the Wise One’s restrictions on her, and why she feels the need to practice going to Tel’aran’rhiod and to try to get news of the world. But if the Wise Ones are right about her need to rest and finish recovering—which I imagine they are—then Egwene is probably making things worse for herself in the long run. The longer it takes her to fully heal, the longer it will be until the Wise Ones let her get back to regular life. She herself is aware that she could learn much faster with one of them teaching her than she can exploring on her own, which means that the little she is gaining probably isn’t worth the cost. Better to heal as quickly as possible and get back to the real work.

But she probably feels the press of time as much as anyone, and Egwene is also someone who is desperately curious and unable to sit still. Many times she has reflected on her desire to learn everything, and not just as a means to an end. Just because she wants to learn. I loved the bit where she was vexed at not knowing how Rand seems to travel great distances and back again. I wonder if he’ll get to show her how, someday soon.

Also, is anyone going to say anything about Nicola’s Foretelling? Did Anaiya miss it somehow? I have no idea what most of it means, but there are a few bits that I had some guesses about. Any reference to a lion makes me think of Elayne, so the lion sword could be that the sword references her, while “the dedicated spear” is Aviendha and “she who sees beyond” is Min. “He who is dead yet lives” might be a reference to Mat, and “the land divided by the return” is definitely a reference to the Seanchan. Not sure what the boat is about, or the guardians and the servants. I feel like the future “teeters on the edge of a blade” is pretty self-explanatory, though.

Next week we’ll tackle Chapter 15, which sums up the adventures of this week, and then we’ll catch up with Rand again in Chapter 16. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with something I noticed while I was looking up the Wise Ones’ lessons on need, back in Chapter 52 of The Shadow Rising. Nynaeve tells the Wise Ones to keep a close eye on Egwene, who has always tried to bite off more than she can chew. But Amys disagrees, saying that she finds Egwene a biddable student.

Of course, we know that part of the reason Amys says this is that she has recently disciplined Egwene for going into the Dream alone without permission. But Nynaeve still has this reflection;

These Wise Ones did not know [Egwene] well if they believed a Two Rivers woman would call herself biddable.

Coincidence? I think not. Foreshadowing? Absolutely.

Sylas K Barrett would like to know more about the giant weather bowl now, please and thank you.

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