Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: A Maiden’s Toh and an Ogier’s Longing in Robert Jordan’s Lord of Chaos (Part 14)

Welcome back to Reading the Wheel of Time! I’ve missed you all.

It’s Chapters 19 through 21 today, and we’ll deal with some dreams, Aviendha’s weird guilt complex, maiden handtalk, Ogier, maps, and our old, nearly-forgotten friend, Shadar Logoth.

Recap time!

Rand always wards his dreams to keep out the Forsaken and the Wise Ones, but he can’t protect himself from his own nightmares. He dreams of sights he recognizes as images from the Age of Legends, flying machines and impossibly tall buildings, but something is off. He sees the buildings fall and the land heave and be destroyed, and time and again he faces a golden-haired woman whose expression changes from love to terror.

Part of him wanted to save her, from the Dark One, from any harm, from what he himself was about to do. So many parts of him, mind splintered in glittering shards, all screaming.

Rand wakes, sweating and horrified. He’s never dreamed Lews Therin’s dreams before, and stays awake the rest of the night, terrified to go back to sleep. In the morning he finds a ring of Aiel, including Aviendha and several Wise Ones, as well as Berelain, Cairhienin and Tairen, all waiting for him. Rand notes the way everyone is carefully watching their respective enemies.

Berelain informs Rand that “his orders” regarding Mangin are to be carried out now, so that he can witness it. Rand tells Berelain coldly that he does not intend to be a witness to every hanging. He’s curious about the surprised and thoughtful looks he sees on various faces, then hears sighs of relief from the Tairen and Cairhienin when he announces that he’s returning at once to Caemlyn.

He’s surprised when Melaine follows him into the room where he does his traveling. He notices the sharp look she sends Aviendha, as well as Aviendha’s intentionally innocent expression. Stepping through the Gateway, Alanna seems to crash back into his head, and he’s aware that she’s been weeping. Sulin snipes at him for going first through the portal, and Rand responds by telling her that the two guard arrangement worked so well he’s going to implement it in the Andoran Royal Palace as well as in the Sun Palace and the Stone of Tear.

Aviendha follows him towards his rooms, seemingly distracted, and admits that Amys and the other Wise Ones don’t know where Elayne is. She tells him that the Wise Ones have had dreams concerning him. The first was of Rand on a boat, with three women whose faces the Dreamers couldn’t see, and a scale tilting back and forth. The second was of a man Rand could not see, standing beside him holding a dagger to his throat. The third was of Rand cleaving the wetlands in two with a sword. Rand can’t imagine the meaning of the first, but he suspects that the second has to do with a gray man, and the third the chaos he has wrought in lands like Tarabon and Arad Doman, and the divisions that may yet occur in Cairhien and Illian. But when he explains his interpretation to Aviendha, she doesn’t seem convinced. Instead she tells him about a fourth dream, though the Wise Ones aren’t sure if it has anything to do with Rand.

All three had this dream, which makes it especially significant. Rain […] coming from a bowl. There are snares and pitfalls around the bowl. If the right hands pick it up, they will find a treasure perhaps as great as the bowl. If the wrong hands, the world is doomed. The key to finding the bowl is to find the one who is no longer.

When she stands to leave, Rand catches himself about to ask her to stay. Instead he asks if she wants to go back to the Wise Ones to continue her studies, and claims that she has taught him so much. She tells him that he doesn’t know anymore than a child, then adds, seemingly to herself, that ji’e’toh sometimes makes for great jokes, and that she will meet her toh. Rand thinks she is speaking of being saved from Lanfear, and reminds her that it was Moiraine who did that, not him, but Aviendha only responds that it is good to be reminded that a man does not know everything.

Outside, Aviendha struggles with her painful feelings, thinking that the toh she owes to Elayne is much greater than the toh she owes to Rand for saving her from Lanfear. The Maiden standing guard, Liah, smiles knowingly at her, infuriating Aviendha. Incensed, she trades insults with the woman via handtalk and even intends to fight her until she realizes that, hampered by her skirts, she would probably lose. Liah might refuse to make her gai’shain, since Aviendha is neither a Wise One nor a Maiden, or demand the right to beat her in front of an audience. And Aviendha would probably get worse punishment from Melaine for her behavior. Cassin, the Red Shield sharing guard duty, remarks that he must learn handtalk, and Liah tells him he would look pretty wearing skirts the day he comes to ask to join the Maidens.

Aviendha drew a relieved breath when Liah’s eyes left hers; under the circumstances, she could not have looked away first honorably. Automatically her fingers moved in acknowledgment, the first handtalk a Maiden learned, since the phrase a new Maiden used most often. I have toh.

Liah signed back without pause. Very small, spear-sister.

Aviendha leaves, thinking about how to meet her toh.

Killing Rand al’Thor would meet one toh, killing herself the second, but each toh blocked that solution to the other. Whatever the Wise Ones said, she had to find some way to meet both.

A servant arrives, shoving past the maiden on guard to breathlessly report to Rand that three Ogier have arrived and are asking to see the Dragon Reborn. Rand leaves his sword and the Dragon Scepter before the man leads him down to a fountained courtyard where the three Ogier are chatting with a large group of Aiel. They greet Rand cordially, introducing themselves as Haman, Covril, and Erith. Rand sends the Aiel away, after some difficulty with the Maidens, and tries to remember where he’s heard the name and title Elder Haman before.

After some comments from Haman about hastiness, Covril demands to know what Rand has done with her son. Rand realizes with a shock that she is Loial’s mother, and that he remembers Loial telling him about Elder Haman back at the stedding. Covril tells Rand to hand Loial over at once so that he can be properly married to Erith, who “will settle his itchy feet.”

Rand knows that Loial is considered young by Ogier standards, too young to have left the stedding alone, but he also knows that Loial ran away in part to escape this marriage. He’s about to tell them that he doesn’t know where Loial is when he thinks to ask how long Loial has been away from the stedding. Haman and Covril merely complain that it’s been too long, but Erith tells Rand that it has been almost five years. He mentions Loial telling him of Ogier who stayed outside for ten years, but Haman claims that all of those who did so died after returning to the stedding or became invalids. He tells Rand that five years is a short time, but that they are tied to the stedding now, and that Rand would be doing Loial a great kindness.

Rand tells them that Loial is in the Two Rivers. and the women declare their intention to set out at once. Rand asks them to stay a few days and help him identify the locations of all the Waygates and after some whispered discussion and comments about being hasty, Haman agrees. Rand immediately shouts for maps, sending Sulin running to fetch every map in the palace. Haman awkwardly tells Rand that he can’t tell him much he doesn’t already know. Rand tries to explain how much can change in three thousand years, how he doesn’t even recognize names that Haman is using, never mind know where they were, and that he doesn’t know where any of the steddings are except for the one he has been to. Haman is shocked, and thinks he’s joking.

Covril put a hand on Haman’s shoulder, but the pity in her eyes was directed at Rand. “He does not remember,” she said softly. “Their memories are gone.” She made it sound the greatest loss imaginable. Erith, hands clasped to her mouth, appeared ready to cry.

Sulin returns with gai’shain carrying maps, and Rand sorts through them and lays them out on the floor for Haman to mark off. It’s quite an education for Rand, seeing the location of so many steddings, first the inhabited ones and then those that have been abandoned or never reclaimed after the Breaking. Then Haman marks off Ogier-built cities where groves—and therefore Waygates—are or used to be. Rand notes that Haman is weeping as he marks off places where the groves have been lost or destroyed. When he sees that Haman has marked a Waygate at Aridhol—at Shadar Logoth—he asks Haman to show him exactly where it is.

In exchange, Rand offers to take them there by a Gateway, which will bring the Ogier most of the way to the Two Rivers in a single day. Haman and the women argue among themselves, but the need to reach Loial wins out, and he reluctantly agrees. They gather up their bundles and Rand opens a gateway just as Sulin returns with more servants bearing maps. She gives him an accusatory glance, and isn’t put off when he tells her that there are some things that he can protect himself from better than she can. He agrees to give her a slow count of fifty, and Sulin uses handtalk to send three of the gai’shain women running. A very short time later, Aiel men and Maidens begin leaping into the room from all directions, all veiled. Rand learns that Sulin spread the word that the Car’a’carn was in danger in order to get enough Aiel there in the time allotted. Some of the men seem to think it’s a pretty good joke. Rand overhears a Maiden named Nandera speaking to Sulin.

“You spoke to gai’shain as Far Dareis Mai.”

Sulin’s blue eyes met Nandera’s green levelly. “I did. We will deal with it when Rand al’Thor is safe today.”

“When he is safe,” Nandera agreed.

After some argument about the number of Aiel who are allowed to accompany him, Rand gives everyone strict instructions to stay in his sight, to touch nothing, and not to go into any buildings for any reason. They step through into the empty, though sunlit, streets of Shadar Logoth. Rand is surprised when he hears Lews Therin’s voice in his head, murmuring that the place frightens him and asking “Does it not frighten you?” Rand answers back, unsure if the voice is really addressing him. Lews Therin references Demandred, leading Rand to wonder if Demandred has something to do with Shadar Logoth, then says he remembers killing Ishamael.

There was a sense of wonder in the voice, at a new discovery. He deserved to die. Lanfear deserved to die, too, but I am glad I was not the one to kill her.

Was it just happenstance that the voice seemed to speak to him? Was Lews Therin hearing, answering? How did I—did you kill Ishamael? Tell me how.

Death. I want the rest of death. But not here. I do not want to die here.

Rand decides Lews Therin is just rambling, as always, and instructs Haman to lead them to the Waygate, which Haman does with some difficulty, hampered in his ability to sense the Waygate by the evil of Shadar Logoth. When they eventually reach it, Haman offers to lock it so that it can’t be opened again, but Rand knows he might need to use the Ways, even given the danger of it, so he puts a weave around the Waygate that will kill any Shadowspawn that passes through it. Not immediately, however—Rand designs it to kill after a short time, so that no following Trolloc army would be warned by the death of those who passed through first. He feels guilty creating such a vicious trap, and is doubly sickened by the way the taint on saidin seems stronger in the presence of the evil of Shadar Logoth.

He’s about to open another gateway when he suddenly realizes they are one Aiel short—Liah is missing. Furious, Rand tells the Aiel to break into pairs to search, while he keeps the three Ogier with him. They search for hours, even though both Jalani and later Sulin point out that Liah could not have gotten so far from them, and that she must be dead or near death to be unable to respond. As the sun begins to dip towards the horizon, Rand reluctantly calls off the search. Even though he knows they can’t stay, it still takes Sulin pointing out that she can sense the watchers in the windows, and Haman bluntly remarking that, from everything he’s heard about Shadar Logoth, the sun setting will probably mean all their deaths, to force Rand to give in to the inevitable truth.

He tells the Ogier that, since they have used so much of the day, he will take them directly to the Two Rivers. Rand opens the gateway near the village, into a field that’s far enough from any farms that they won’t be seen.

As the last of the Aiel went through, Sulin hissed, and he glanced at her, but she was looking at his hand. At the back of his hand, where his fingernails had sliced a gash that oozed blood. Wrapped in the Void as he was, the pain might have belonged to someone else. The physical mark did not matter; it would heal. He had made deeper inside, where no one could see. One for each Maiden who died, and he never let them heal.

Stepping through, Rand finds himself disoriented when he arrives into a field full of sheep. A small boy with a shepherd’s crook stares for a moment, then runs off towards the farmhouse. Rand asks the Ogier not to tell anyone how they came, hoping that the boys story will be dismissed as childish fantasy around the arrival of three Ogier.

Haman stroked his beard and cleared his throat. “You must not kill yourself.”

Even in the Void, Rand was startled. “What?”

“The road ahead of you,” Haman rumbled, “is long, dark, and, I very much fear, bloodstained. I also very much fear that you will take us all down that road. But you must live to reach the end of it.”

Rand promises that he will, and stands for a moment looking off in the direction of the house he grew up in. Leaving feels like tearing off his own arm, and he thinks that the pain of it is a suitable memorial for Liah.

 

This is one of those weeks where summaries are difficult, because there are a lot of allusions to things that the narrative is keeping from us. I was really perplexed by the entire exchange between Rand and Berelain and all the assembled people about Mangin’s execution and the fact that Rand isn’t attending. Everyone seems to have a reaction, and Rand clocks them all thoughtfully, but I for one couldn’t tell what any of the reactions meant. A lot of people seemed frightened by his declaration that he wasn’t going to stay, but I couldn’t tell why.

Similarly, there’s a lot of hints about the future, including Elayne’s weather bowl, from the Wise One’s dreams. Enough to be very intriguing but not quite enough to analyze effectively. I do think that Rand was too literal with his interpretations though; sure, a gray man might be able to hold a knife up to his throat without Rand seeing him, but it seems pretty obvious to me that the image is more metaphorical. Someone close to Rand is his enemy, and Rand doesn’t realize it. But who? Bashere maybe? Or Taim? Lews Therin is suspicious of Taim but I was putting that down to the fact that a bunch of Lews Therin’s own channeling buddies betrayed him and went over to the Dark, so of course he’s going to see that in someone else.

Granted, it’d probably be pretty surprising if something like that didn’t happen to Rand too, at least once or twice. But I’m less suspicious of Taim because he’s first, and because he’s kind of an asshole. Narratively, that makes me want to trust him more than someone who seemed too good to be true.

You know, if Nynaeve ever manages to heal stilling/gentling, Rand would get to have Taim and Logain. Can you imagine the pissing contest those two would have? Hoo, boy.

As is so often (always?) the case with Rand, I both have a lot of sympathy for him and also am incredibly frustrated by his behavior. It’s easy to see why Rand believes, coming from the culture he does, that women shouldn’t be exposed to war and fighting the way men are. Except for a few rules of conduct (marrying and being active parents) the Aiel view the Maidens as being basically the same as any other warriors, bound by the same codes of ji’e’toh, capable of the same feats, as dedicated to the spear as any man. But Rand wasn’t raised among the Aiel, so of course it’s harder for him to view the Maidens the way their people do.

Still we’ve seen other male characters—Thom and Juilin, for example, as well as Perrin and Mat—come up against the same issue. And they have realized what Rand is still struggling to accept—or rather, struggling to resist accepting. That despite your desire to protect a woman, despite the moments where you may feel duty-bound to put yourself between her and danger, at a certain point you have to realize that she is a full person who is going to make her own choices, even if you think those choices are wrong or foolish. Perrin, in particular, has experienced the pain of feeling responsible for putting a woman in danger she wouldn’t otherwise be in. At that time, he tried to control Faile because he believed that being the source of her danger gave him the right to decide whether or not she was allowed to face it. But since then he’s had to accept that she will not allow him to dictate her choices—we see that he’s at least reluctantly resigned to that fact when Faile won’t let him leave her behind in the Two Rivers.

Rand and Perrin have had a similar journey in learning to become generals and facing the fact that, when you lead men into battle, they are going to die. That’s just an inevitable fact of the war they have been called to wage. While Rand may despise himself for the decisions he has to make and for being hard, he also knows the necessity of it and keeps telling himself that he must become harder, must do what has to be done no matter the cost. But when it comes to the Maidens, all that goes out the window. He feels he needs to be punished for what happens to them.

There’s something pathological about it that I find deeply uncomfortable. Rand is actively self-harming over the issue of Liah’s death, both physically as well as emotionally. He’s gone past not being able to let go of what he can control and is actively trying to injure himself, to make his pain worse, to create wounds that he intends to never let heal. So why is it that Rand takes this particular type of tragedy so much harder than all the others, and that even with all he’s suffered, even with the unhealing wound he already has, this is something he feels the need to harm himself over?

It’s possible he feels responsible because he believes the Maidens would be less insistent if he hadn’t given them his honor to carry. Or maybe he feels a certain amount of familial responsibility because he knows they all view him as a son or brother because his mother was a Maiden. Or perhaps, is it Lews Therin’s influence that’s turned the death of women into some kind of talisman? After all, Lews Therin keeps moaning about Ilyena whenever Rand thinks about Elayne, whenever he thinks about the Aes Sedai, whenever Rand thinks of his guilt over what he has become. Perhaps he’s punishing himself because Lews Therin wants to punish himself for what happened when he was under the influence of the madness of the taint.

I want to be really careful here, because, as I’ve noted before in the read, the words “madness” and “insanity” are used in the series both to describe what happens to the minds of men who are exposed to the taint of saidin as well as to describe people whose mental capacity is somehow altered by grief or injury or in places where we in our time might say about mental illness. This is in part because of the fictional time period in which the story is set but also because conversations about mental health, ableism, and stigma are very different now in 2022 than they were in 1994. But even given these points, the fact that the taint-induced changes in men’s minds is simply called “madness” is very vague and sloppy, and I’d really like to see more nuance around the way that it is described.

There seem to be two main symptoms of the taint-induced madness: destructive, violent rage, and a complete disconnect from reality. Lews Therin doesn’t seem to have, for example, believed he was fighting enemies when he lashed out and killed Ilyena and the rest of his household—the disconnect was more nebulous and consuming than that. It’s like a breakdown of reality, rather than a distortion of it, which I suppose makes sense. Saidin is one of the fundamental building blocks of reality, so corrupting someone’s sense of it is to corrupt their very sense of the Pattern. This is probably why Lews Therin is both an echo of Rand’s own past and a real person capable of observing what is going on around Rand and even commenting on it. (Rand doesn’t think Lews Therin was actually answering him back, but I’m pretty confident he was.) Reality is blurred; time and space aren’t following the usual rules as far as Rand’s perception of them goes.

I imagine that this is what the world would look like if the Dark One broke free and changed reality to his own image. It would be like Egwene stepping into one of those too-different dreams where she couldn’t find any spatial orientation or even understand the images that she was seeing. The Dark One’s reality is a fundamental deconstruction of the reality that was made for living beings to occupy, which relies on certain rules of physics, space, and time.

All of this is to say that this is how I’ve started to draw the line between taint-madness and mental health issues in my understanding of what Rand is experiencing. It’s a bit of a leap, I think, and possibly may be ranging into a personal headcanon, but I think it fits well. The taint doesn’t give you depression, or hallucinations, or give you a high every time you murder someone. It simply splinters your ability to perceive and engage with reality, which would probably do a lot of things to your mind in turn.

Rand’s reality is splintering in a way that has connected him to a past that both is and isn’t his. There is a bleed-through here with Lews Therin that doesn’t really follow any logical progression—it’s just mush. Sometimes Lews Therin is aware of what Rand is doing, other times not. Sometimes Rand can tell which thoughts are his and which are Lews Therin’s, sometimes not. And if Rand doesn’t always know which thoughts are his, I bet he could be feeling some of Lews Therin’s emotions too, without even realizing it.

And if there’s one emotion Lews Therin is hung up on, it’s guilt over the death of the woman he loved. Rand is putting that guilt onto the Maidens in equal measure, stewing in it, stoking the fires of it, condemning himself for it, just as Lews Therin howls in his mind over Ilyena and begs for the endless death he feels he deserves. But Rand can’t clock the fact that his feelings are over the top, possibly because of Lews Therin’s influence, and also possibly because, well, women (or anyone) dying isn’t exactly a good thing in the best of circumstances.

You know, I totally forgot about those times that Lanfear got into Rand’s dreams and messed around with them. I’m glad to be reminded that it’s not just the Aes Sedai and Wise Ones that Rand is trying to protect himself from when he wards his dreams, but no one knows this, of course, so it’s another moment where people like Egwene might judge him more harshly than is fair, since she’s only focused on the fact that he’s keeping her out, and on the fact that the lack of trust between the Aes Sedai and Rand is an ongoing problem that she, Nynaeve, and Elayne have to be the ones to deal with.

Aviendha has to deal with the friction between Rand and the Wise Ones, not to mention with her own desires and her sense of honor. I was really confused by the way Aviendha was considering the sources of her toh and the means of meeting it. I suppose I can kind of see why she might view killing herself as a way to make up for how she feels she has betrayed Elayne—not only does she view Rand as claimed by Elayne, but she considers herself as personally responsible for protecting that claim. So by sleeping with Rand, Aviendha might view herself as failing in that duty twice over, once by not stopping Rand from pursuing someone else and again by being that someone else. Still, suicide seems like a bit of an extreme reaction from an Aiel even under these circumstances. After all, they are a bit more sexually liberal than your average westerner, though they have their own strict rules about interactions.

But what toh does she have that would be expunged by killing Rand? Surely she doesn’t think he should die for sleeping with another woman while “belonging” to Elayne. Again, this seems like an extreme belief for the Aiel to have—Rand might be claimed, but Elayne hasn’t married him yet or even laid a bridal wreath. Not to mention the fact that ji’e’toh is highly personalized. I would think that the punishment for a betrayal would be decided upon by the offended party, not so standardized that it could be meted out before Elayne even heard about what Rand had done. Maybe it’s different since Aviendha feels like she’s been deputized to act in Elayne’s stead, but I feel like she’d have toh to Elayne if she took it upon herself to make such a decision.

The longing for the stedding is another thing I completely forgot about, since it’s been a few books since it was mentioned. The longing is a really interesting aspect of Ogier culture, and I really enjoy this particular bit of Jordan’s mash-up homage to Tolkien. The Ogier are kind of ents, kind of elves, and like the elves of The Lord of the Rings, they seem to have been more a part of the world in ages past than they are in this one. But where the elves were drawn to a land beyond the known world, the Ogier’s Valinor exists in pieces scattered around the continent. I’m deeply curious as to why the steddings have developed this hold on the Ogier—they seem to always have been their home, but the longing is a function of having been without the stedding for a long time. What aspect of creation caused such a thing? And why is it that the One Power can’t be accessed there?

When we first encountered that fact in The Eye of the World, we didn’t know enough about the One Power to find the fact very strange—I think I just assumed it was competing magic. But now that I know saidin and saidar are fundamental to the functioning of all Creation, the fact that channelers can’t access the Power while inside a stedding actually seems deeply peculiar. Perhaps the land there uses the One Power in a different way, absorbing it all to make the trees grow or to give the Ogier their long lives. Or maybe it’s like superman being unable to see through lead—some property of the land blocks the One Power from reaching the human plane, just as x-rays can be blocked by dense atomic structures. Obviously the One Power is still a part of the Ogier land, of course. How could it not be?

Also, it’s curious that we have never encountered other sentient species besides Ogier and humans. Seanchan seems to have a variety of fantasy beasts, but so far none of them have had human-level cognition.

Jordan is great at spinning a mystery this way, and I’m looking forward to finding more answers to this question. I hope we get to see Loial again soon as well, and that going back to the stedding to recover from the Longing doesn’t mean he’ll be stuck there from now on. And I’m left thinking, too, about how longing really is a theme of these chapters. Lews Therin longing for death, longing for peace. Rand wondering if Alanna longs for him, if she’s been weeping because he went away. Rand longing for Aviendha, thinking that every moment around her is torture but every moment away is too.

And how very like Jordan to introduce a new character and paint a pretty good picture of her in a few short chapters, make me like her a whole bunch, and then kill her off. Probably she’s dead, anyway. I loved the exchange between her and Aviendha, the way that Liah wasn’t willing to take one ounce of disrespect from Aviendha. She also had the upper hand in that exchange because it was Aviendha who overstepped, but she handled it gracefully and even called Aviendha “spear-sister,” despite having just pointed out to Aviendha that she isn’t a Maiden anymore. Liah is proud as any Aiel, but she was also gentle with Aviendha once her own honor was secure. And I thought it was very cute when she told Cassin that he’d look pretty in a skirt.

I wonder what happened to her. Maybe she’s dead or destroyed somehow, but I’m worried she’ll be caught and corrupted somehow by Shadar Logoth. I’m curious if there’s any part of Mordeth’s presence left there now that it’s become a part of Padan Fain. Mat was corrupted by the dagger but it was Fain, even before he got the blade himself, who possessed the Mordeth consciousness. Did he carry out all of it? Are the watchers in the windows part of Mordeth too, or are they the corrupted spirits or echoes of the rest of the population of Aridhol?

I have so many questions. Like why would you make all of a fence except the joints out of power-wrought material? Seems like a weird oversight. And what will be Sulin’s punishment (toh?) for using handtalk with a gai’shain? Also, was Haman being literal when he told Rand not to kill himself? Did he actually pick up somehow on Rand’s tendency toward self-harm? Or was he speaking a little more broadly, meaning something along the lines of “please don’t run yourself so ragged that you don’t make it to the Tarmon Gai’don finish line?”

Next week we’ll cover chapters 22 and 23. And in the meantime, I’ll leave you this week with the absolutely thematic beauty of Rand going back to the Two Rivers for a moment and ending up stepping accidentally into a field of sheep. It seems symbolic, somehow, to have that little reminder of who he used to be, and even more poignant than the way he stood looking in the direction of his childhood home.

Longing, indeed.

Sylas K Barrett loves trees and would very much like to visit a stedding. They sound so wonderful and peaceful.

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