Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: Death, Heritage, and Aes Sedai Gold in Robert Jordan’s Lord of Chaos (Part 17)

Welcome back to Reading The Wheel of Time! It was nice to have a little break. I bet Rand wishes he could have one right about now. We’re covering Chapters 26 and 27 this week, but since I greatly underestimated how long Chapter 27 is, I’m going to cut off my recap a little early, right after Coiren, Galina, and Nesune leave the room. We’ll leave Egwene and Rand’s talk and the embassy’s debrief for next week.

My analysis is all over the place this week, there’s so much to consider! Let’s get to it.

Rand sits on his horse on a hilltop, watching as the Saldaean horsemen put on a display of trick riding on the plain below, riding in columns that swoop past each other, standing on their saddles or doing handstands on them, even crawling under the horses or jumping on and then off again. With Rand and his Aiel escort is a contingent of Saldaean women, including Deira ni Ghaline t’Bashere, wife of Davram Bashere.

“Is my husband… amusing you?” She never gave Rand a title, never used his name.

He looked at the other Saldaean women. They watched him like a troop of cavalry ready to charge, faces also granite, tilted eyes icy. All they awaited was Deira’s command. He could well believe the stories of Saldaean women taking up fallen husbands’ swords and leading their men back into battle. Being pleasant had gotten him exactly nowhere with Bashere’s wife; Bashere himself only shrugged and said she was a difficult woman at times, all the while grinning with what could only be pride.

Rand answers icily that she can tell Lord Bashere that he is pleased, then turns his horse back towards Caemlyn while Lews Therin giggles in his mind about the dangers of prodding a woman. Rand worries over his own impending madness, of which he has yet seen no sign, and wonders if he’ll end up like Lews Therin, laughing and crying over things no one else can see. He wonders if he will still be able to do what he must if his mind cracks.

Riding through the city, Rand spots a white-cloaked man on a rooftop leveling a crossbow. He blocks the bolt with Air and sends a fireball into the man’s chest, igniting him, but then one of the Maidens, Desora, throws herself at him, knocking him from his horse and taking a second bolt. Aiel quickly haul Rand to his feet and shield him with their bodies, scanning for more attackers. Soon after, others of the Aiel emerge with prisoners, forcing the men to their knees in front of Rand.

Rand tells the Aiel to hang three of the four men. The fourth, who is visibly more frightened than the others, Rand designates to be taken to view the hanging and then be sent back to Pedron Niall to tell him that, one day, Rand will hang him for what happened here today. Then he goes back to memorize Desora’s face and add her name to the growing list in his mind. He also finds the body of a civilian woman, and orders the Maiden Nandera to find the woman’s family and see to it that they have gold and anything else they might need. And to find out her name.

As soon as Rand enters the palace he is approached by Mistress Harfor, first maid of the Palace, who Rand suspects stayed after his arrival in the Palace in order to guard and protect it as much as anything else. She informs him that the Wavemistress of Clan Catelar, of the Atha’an Miere has petitioned for an audience with him. Rand knows nothing about the Sea Folk, but Mistress Harfor’s attitude, and the title Wavemistress, suggests importance. He tells her to arrange an audience for the midafternoon, and is then informed that the Lady Elenia also wishes to speak with him. Rand has already been treated to more than one lecture from Elenia on her claims to the Lion Throne, but she also knows the most about Andor’s history, so, after assuring Mistress Harfor that Elayne will be Queen, he has Elenia sent to his chambers.

When Elenia arrives​, Rand asks her about the history of Andor, doing his best to avoid letting her stray into describing her own lineage. He learns that all the noble families trace their lineage to Ishara Casalain, the first Queen of Andor, whose mother was Artur Hawkwing’s governor of the then-province, and whose husband, Souran, was the general in charge of the last year of Hawkwing’s siege against Tar Valon.

“[When Hawkwing died] every noble thought to become High King. Or High Queen. Ishara knew that no one would be able to take it all, though; there were too many factions, and alliances broke as soon as made. She convinced Souran to raise the siege of Tar Valon, and brought him and as much of his army as he could hold together here.”

Ishara, Rand learns, is credited with choosing to fortify her hold over the lands she already possessed, rather than being greedy and trying for more, as most of the other nobles did. Rand is interested, and disturbed, to hear that all the Queens of Andor are descendants of Ishara and Souran, that all the members of all the houses consider themselves cousins. He asks Elenia whether, if Morgase and Tigraine had been farmers or ordinary people, anyone would still consider them cousins. She’s scandalized by the idea of imaging the Houses as farmers, but reluctantly admits that in that case, no one would consider them related at all, given how far back the connection goes.

At that point Rand stops listening, surprised by the sense of relief and relaxation that suddenly washes over him. When Elenia mentions that he bears some resemblance to Tigraine he dismisses her abruptly. He has finally realized that the reason he felt uncomfortable beneath the portraits of the Queens in the Great Hall is because of the possibility that Tigraine and Morgase were closely related.

Relief that his mother was not related to Elayne’s mother is replaced with sudden guilt and condemnation, and he goes back to the door to tell the Aiel to assemble his escort, and not to tell Aviendha that he is going to Cairhien.

Meanwhile, Egwene is practically walking on air as she returns to the Wise Ones’ tents after a visit with Gawyn. She thinks back over her day, how he’d been disguised in different clothes with his hood drawn low over his face, whispering for her to follow him to The Long Man. She’s had a lovely time kissing Gawyn in the private room of an Inn, but she’s sobered by his warning that the Aes Sedai are looking for someone like her. She reminds herself that she is resolved not to press him for information, and wonders if the name Egwene of the Green Ajah might have made its way to the Aes Sedai.

When she reaches the tents, she’s invited to join some of the other Wise One apprentices in relaxing—the Wise Ones are meeting alone in their tents and have given everyone the rare luxury of a day off. In the tent she’s served by a gai’shain wearing the red siswai’aman headdress. Her mind is on Gawyn and the little scraps of information she’s learned from him, but she starts paying much more attention when she learns that Rand has returned to Cairhien again, and is going to meet with the Aes Sedai embassy in the afternoon.

Egwene is horrified that Rand might actually trust the embassy. She remembers that he had believed Alviarin’s fawning letter, and thus believes that he has followers and allies in the Tower. Personally she is sure that Elaida and Alviarin worked up the two letters together as a ploy to get him to the Tower, and quickly hurries from the tents and into the city.

She enters the Palace through a servant door and corners the first servant she sees in the kitchens to guide her to Rand’s chambers. The Maiden on guard, Somara, recognizes her and asks Egwene to tell Rand to be careful—she means no disrespect to the Aes Sedai but Rand is headstrong and doesn’t look before he leaps. In turn, Egwene asks Somara not to tell the Aes Sedai that she is here.

Egwene enters Rand’s apartments without announcement, and immediately calls him “young man” and that Somara says he should wash behind his ears. Rand is amused, pointing out that she is the one who looks like she has been crawling in the dirt and offering to send for water. Egwene, trying to save face, refuses and pulls out her handkerchief to try to clean up while she warns him about the Aes Sedai. She tells him that he can’t trust them, and Rand asks again about Egwene’s “hidden friends.”

“I don’t trust any Aes Sedai. They”—there was a hesitation in his voice, as if he had started to use another word, though she could not imagine what—“will try to use me, and I will try to use them. A pretty circle, don’t you think?” If she had ever considered the possibility that he could be allowed near the Salidar Aes Sedai, his eyes disabused her of it, so hard, so cold, that she shivered inside.

Egwene decides to try to goad Rand, hoping that if he’s angry he won’t be able to be civil enough with Coiren, and will drive the embassy away. She lectures him on the proper deference due to Aes Sedai, but her plan backfires when Rand agrees and promises to be humble. Wanting to change the subject, she brings up that the Sea Folk ship White Spray is in the harbor and its Wavemistress is growing impatient waiting to see him. Rand observes that there seem to be Sea Folk everywhere, and that Berelain wants him to meet with a Harine din Togara Two Winds.

Just then they are interrupted by Somara announcing that the Aes Sedai have arrived. Rand is angered and alarmed that the Aes Sedai came early, no doubt hoping to catch him off guard. Egwene is alarmed too, and briefly considers putting herself under his protection so that the Aes Sedai cannot take her away. Instead, she asks if there’s a way out, or if she can hide in another room, telling him that the Aes Sedai must not know that she is there.

He spoke, but definitely not to her. “You are there,” he whispered hoarsely. “Too much coincidence for you to think of that now.” He was staring at nothing with a look of fury, and maybe fear. “Burn you, answer me! I know you’re there!”

Egwene thinks that he can’t have gone mad so suddenly, but then she observed earlier that he seemed to be listening to something that wasn’t there. She moves over to him, asking if he’s alright, but he reacts by pulling away, and ordering her not to move.

“Don’t move!” In a disgusted tone he added, “Burn him, it seems it ripples if you move. I’ll fasten it to the floor, but you still can’t jump about. I don’t know how big I can make it, and this is no time to find out.” Somara’s mouth had fallen open, though she snapped it shut quickly.

She suddenly realizes that he has woven saidin around her and when he laughs and tells her to look in the mirror, she sees that he has made her invisible. He tells her that is better than hiding under his bed.

“I want you to see how respectful I can be. Besides,” his tone became more serious, “maybe you’ll see something I miss. Maybe you’ll even be willing to tell me.”

He mounts to his dais and chair again, takes up the Seanchan spear, and tells Somara to let them in.

Coiren, Nesune, and a black-haired Aes Sedai enter, followed by serving women carrying chests. When Rand rises and comes down to inspect the serving women, checking their faces for the look of Aes Sedai, the three women link—Egwene can see the glow of saidar around them, and sees Rand rub his arm as he feels the tingle of women channeling. He sternly tells them that they will not channel or even embrace saidar around him, and repeats it until the three let go of the True Source. Then he magnanimously offers to forget it happened, and to start again.

Coiren introduces herself and her companions with much pomp and circumstance, and issues a longwinded formal invitation for Rand to accompany them to the White Tower. The chests are opened to reveal gold, a gift from the Amyrlin Seat. Rand smiles at the sight, then slams the chests closed using saidin, startling everyone in the room as he drawls that he can always find use for gold. Suddenly, Egwene realizes that he hasn’t even tried to act humbly, and that he’d been only playing with her when he said he intended to be.

Rand plays the Aes Sedai off, never saying that he won’t go to the White Tower but speaking of delays and the many commitments he has in Andor and elsewhere which he must meet first.

Coiren’s mouth tightened for just an instant. Her voice remained as smooth and round as ever, though. “We surely have no objections to resting a few days before we begin the return journey to Tar Valon. In the meanwhile, may I suggest that one of us remain close at hand, to offer advice should you wish it? We have, of course, heard of Moiraine’s unfortunate demise. I cannot offer myself, but Nesune or Galina would be most willing.”

Rand studies both of them, seeming to be listening to something, or for something, then leans back and refuses the offer, claiming that it might not be safe for the Aes Sedai to remain so close to him.

“For your own safety, none of you should come closer to me than a mile without permission. Best if you stay that far from the Palace without permission, too. You will know when I’m ready to go with you. I promise that.” Abruptly he was on his feet. Atop the dais he stood tall enough that the Aes Sedai had to crane their necks, and it was plain none of them liked it any more than they liked his restrictions.

He dismisses them summarily, and the Aes Sedai, clearly irked, make their curtsies and turn to go.

“As they turned to go, Rand spoke again, casually. “I forgot to ask. How is Alviarin?”

“She is well.” Galina’s mouth hung open for a moment, her eyes widening. She appeared startled to have spoken.

 

Now that was a trick worthy of an Aes Sedai or a ruler of Andor! With a little bit of ta’veren power backing it up, I suspect—the Aes Sedai are disciplined enough that I don’t really think Galina would have replied without thinking. I wonder if Moiraine taught Rand little tricks like this. And I wonder if he knew, or at least hoped, that his ta’veren power would work for him as well.

I’m really frustrated with Egwene this week. I can understand that she feels loyalty and obligation both to the Aes Sedai and to the Wise Ones, and it’s fair that she feels worried that the power struggle between Rand and the Salidar Aes Sedai could result in some really bad and dangerous friction. Making herself, Nynaeve, and Elayne a buffer between the two makes sense, but she doesn’t seem to have any idea how to make herself a bridge between them.

I don’t blame Rand for feeling like she’s chosen the Aes Sedai’s side over his. I think she has, though I don’t believe she’d see it that way. Egwene keeps asking him to trust the Salidar Aes Sedai, to listen to her and do what she says, but she hasn’t given him much of a reason to do so, other than telling him she’s right and that the Salidar Aes Sedai support him while those of the Tower can’t be trusted.

But Rand has made it very clear that he doesn’t trust her. While he certainly has his own foibles and stubbornness, and does plenty of his own dissembling, he has shared some of his feelings and misgivings with her, and all that is owed to their childhood background. Egwene seems quick enough to remember Rand’s flaws as a child, but she doesn’t seem to think about the way she used to trust him anymore. I guess he seems too different to her, or maybe his identity as the Dragon is so overwhelming in her mind that she can’t really see past it.

Given that the reader gets to spend a lot of time hearing Rand’s thoughts, it’s easy to forget that the rest of the world, even the people who know him best, are still just guessing. I suppose it would be easy to be too hard on Egwene when I know how Rand feels, how much he’s struggling with his own guilt and sense of isolation, how much of a front he is putting on for the sake of appearing like the powerful and competent Dragon Reborn. But even with all that, it still feels like Egwene is assuming the worst in Rand. Just in this section alone, she is certain that Rand believed Alviarin’s obsequious letter, that he thinks he has friends in the White Tower. Even after he tells her he doesn’t trust the Aes Sedai, she still thinks she has to trick him into sending the embassy away accidentally. She also believes that he’s childish enough to let annoyance dictate how he handles the Aes Sedai, rather than relying on his own judgment.

I’m not sure what it is that makes Egwene believe that Rand is so foolish. It’s possible that she’s letting her fear of these outcomes transmute itself into a certainty, seeing the worst case scenario. Or perhaps she’s merely frustrated that she can’t control him. Maybe both of those things. Also, I think maybe Egwene is feeling pulled in too many directions at once; she feels loyalty and obligation both to the Aes Sedai and to the Wise Ones, and she’s already struggling with balancing both of those things without also trying to balance a duty and obligation towards Rand. Who, incidentally, is also being pulled in many directions at once, trying to balance the demands of many parties and the needs of the whole world, all while hunting the Forsaken and dealing with the fact that his mind will eventually break.

I think the way Rand keeps jumping from Caemlyn to Cairhien and back again really shows his state of mind right now. He’s finally managed to make it to the viewing of Bashere’s troops, at least. Which, by the way, I have been waiting for and am now very disappointed about. All those hints about how important the inspection is, but now we’ve seen it and we have no more answers. Why are all these guys trick riders, anyway? What is the scheme behind Rand being observed inspecting them, and how does it relate to the plan to go after Sammael? I did enjoy meeting Deira, she seems like exactly what I imagined Faile’s mom to be like. It’s really interesting that the Saldean noblewomen have the custom of following their men when they ride off to war or battle.

In any case, Rand and Egwene are going to have to learn to trust each other eventually, and not only for the sake of politics. I still believe she’s going to end up being Amyrlin, so she’ll be the head of the female channelers and Rand will be the head of the male channelers. That will no doubt require them to work very closely together, especially because we know that the greatest works of channeling require men and women to work together. That will need a lot of trust, especially if linking is involved.

Despite my frustrations with Egwene, this was a really fun section to read. I enjoyed learning more about the history of Andor and Rand’s heritage. The whole discussion with Elenia made me laugh, especially when he asked her if Morgase and Tigraine would still be considered cousins if they were farmers. Jordan has done a particularly excellent job with the dialogue in both chapters; I could hear a lot of it in my head like dialogue in a movie. It never occurred to me that Rand would worry about being related to Elayne once he learned of his heritage, but of course it makes perfect sense. I’m glad he’s had his worries put to rest, even if he’s too busy hating himself for liking her, and Aviendha, and Min, and for being the Dragon Reborn and a danger to any woman, never mind three.

I also really enjoyed how Rand handled Coiren, Galina, and Nesune. It was rather refreshing to see him talk to them the way the Aes Sedai talk to others, aware that he holds the greater authority, at least for the moment, and he handles them in the same dismissive, parental way they handle everyone else. Especially knowing that the embassy is a trap, it’s quite satisfying to see them put on the defensive for a change. Rand plays the game well, using words that aren’t offensive on their face but that make it clear the disdain he holds for them and the control he has over the situation—again, for the moment.

As much as I don’t really give a fig for their feelings (especially Galina who appears to be Black Ajah), I did feel like I should spare a moment of empathy for how strange it must be to be an Aes Sedai and realize that a man can sense your channeling. When Egwene and Elayne discovered Rand could feel chills when they embraced saidar it was an interesting fact, but not upsetting—they are still new to channeling after all, nothing is that shocking. But for these women, for Aes Sedai who believe that they know everything that it is possible to know in this Age, who are still wrestling with fear of the Dragon and of the corruption of saidin, it must have come as a terrible shock. It’s hard to imagine how it would feel already being terrified of Rand and then having him aware of their one weapon… all while they can’t sense his use of the One Power at all. It has probably been a very, very long time since any of them have been in such a vulnerable position.

It has been a theme since the beginning, but Lord of Chaos has been particularly focused on showing how difficult it is for those accustomed to power and authority to accept the new reality of their lives. The old rules by which they have always lived, by which their nations and organizations have been ruled for generations, are being dismantled. The old lines of power are dissolving. And in these two chapters we see both the Aes Sedai and the leader of the Whitecloaks continuing to think they can conduct business as usual… and it’s not working out for either of them.

Generally both Niall and the Aes Sedai both understand that the world must be united by the time Tarmon Gai’don arrives, but each is also convinced that they are the ones intended to lead. That is, after all, how they are accustomed to doing things; both the Aes Sedai and the Children of the Light are old, established institutions that have had great power and influence in the world for a very long time. Members of these organizations define themselves by their affiliation to a degree that far surpasses that of an average job or calling. The titles of “Child” and “Sedai” are more important than surnames, and the work each does is considered to be integral to the very survival of the Light.

Niall believes that the concept of the Dragon is made up, something crafted by Aes Sedai and Darkfriends, and so of course he doesn’t think he should follow the Dragon or cede authority to him. The Aes Sedai, on the other hand, are very aware of what the prophecies promise, and though they fear Rand, they also believe that the Dragon is necessary to the defeat of the Dark One in the Last Battle. However, they don’t want to give up their own historical power, even a little bit. And so they are left in this untenable position where they are terrified of a man who can channel, desperately aware of how much they need him to win Tarmon Gai’don, and at the same time determined to control him and make his choices for him.

It’s frustrating for the reader and for Rand, doubly so when Egwene seems to support the Aes Sedai’s authority over his. One can’t help but remember how much trust Moiraine eventually managed to earn with him. Egwene already has an in; she wouldn’t have to go so far as to promise to obey him in all things. She just needs to give him a little bit more. As much as she gives the Wise Ones, perhaps.

Another thing I really enjoyed was getting to see Rand interact with Lews Therin from Egwene’s point of view. It’s such a different experience than being in his head for it, and I couldn’t help wondering if Rand was aware that he was speaking aloud or not. It’s possible that he knew Egwene could hear him and just didn’t care, since he was so focused on what needed to be done. On the other hand, he could converse with Lews Therin in his head just as easily, so perhaps he wasn’t really aware that he was speaking aloud.

In any case, this is a reminder that Lews Therin’s presence is a symptom of the madness of the taint. The reader starts to get used to Lews Therin’s presence after a while—personally, I assumed Lews Therin was his own consciousness long before Rand did—and even finds him useful. This is the first time he’s outright taught Rand how to make a weave, but I’ve sometimes wondered if any of the other things Rand has figured out to do on his own maybe came from Lews Therin. Possibly not, since instinct and innate talent seems to play a huge role in learning how to channel, especially if you are a wilder and strong in the One Power. In any case, there clearly are benefits to having Lews Therin around, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. Especially since he seems to be slowly leeching his personal guilt and regrets into Rand’s brain. Maybe even his death wish.

It’s interesting that Rand doesn’t feel like he sees any sign of madness in himself. He literally has a past incarnation of himself talking in his head! And what about that time he almost smashed the Seal Taim gave him, and didn’t even realize he was doing it? The random flashes of anger could be explained by his difficult circumstances, but I think it would be a mistake if Rand didn’t at least consider that the taint madness tends to come with destructive anger, and that it could be feeding into his mood at any time, really. I find myself wondering if this is just willful ignorance on his part—one could understand how he’d rather just stick his head in the sand and pretend everything is fine for as long as he can—or if, like most madmen, he no longer has the objective sense of reality to catch the signs in himself.

A few disconnected thoughts:

When Rand assures Mistress Harfor (not for the first time) that he intends Elayne to have the Lion Throne, he uses the same oath that Siuan used to gain Gareth Bryne’s confidence—“By the Light and my hope of rebirth and salvation.” It’s also the wording used in the Three Oaths sworn by newly raised Aes Sedai. We know this is considered the most powerful and binding oath, even without an oath rod to physically enforce it. Swearing by your hope of rebirth and salvation is a big thing, and Rand tosses it off so lightly here. That really struck me.

Also, I really want to know what the Wavemistress has to say to Rand, so I hope he goes to see her soon. I almost forgot about the Sea Folk and how they have their own version of the Dragon Reborn, the Coramoor, and their own prophecies about him. It will be interesting to learn more about that, especially given that it’s so important to the Sea Folk that they’d travel by horseback to reach him. But also, I just love oceans and sailors and pirates and things, so maybe that’s more of a personal issue than a plot issue.

Finally, please enjoy my favorite bits and passages for the week. And I apologize for all the quotes in this week’s post! Except I don’t, because they’re all so good. Jordan can sometimes says a lot with only a few, perfectly chosen words.

A serious one first, showing how the Maidens are aware of Rand’s emotional problems where women are concerned, but no one knows how to help him:

Nandera stretched a hand toward him, then put it back to her bow. When he stood, the Maidens were watching him. Oh, they were watching everything as usual, but those veiled faces turned toward him a little more often. Sulin knew how he felt, if she did not know about the list, but he had no idea whether she had told the others. If she had, he had no idea how they felt about it.

And then a funny one, Elenia’s scandalized reaction to having to imagine the Houses as farmers:

“Farmers?” she exclaimed, staring at him. “My Lord Dragon, what a peculiar—” The blood drained slowly from her face; he had been a farmer, after all. She wet her lips, a nervous flicker of the tongue. “I suppose… I should have to think. Farmers. I suppose that means imagining all the Houses as farmers.” A nervous titter broke from her before she drowned it in her punch. “Had they been farmers, I don’t think anyone would “consider them related at all. All the connections are too far back. But they were not, my Lord Dragon…”

I  continue to enjoy the way the Maidens flirt-tease the male Aiel on guard, and how much those guys like it:

The worst bad blood is between first-sisters,” Somara said with a nod. “Go in. They will not hear your name from me, and if Maric’s tongue flaps, I will tie a knot in it.” Maric, head and shoulders taller and weighing at least twice as much, smiled slightly without looking at her.

Also, this description of Rand’s ta’veren power doing random things to unsuspecting people is pure gold:

Murmured apologies, and each woman stepped aside again. In the same direction. More apologies, and as if dancing, they moved together once more. As Egwene passed them, they were still stepping from side to side in perfect unison, faces beginning to redden, apologies swallowed behind compressed lips. How long it might go on she had no idea, but it was well to remember that Rand was in the city.

 

I’ll finish up Chapter 27 next week and then roll on into Chapter 28, in which Rand runs from more audiences and messes up ji’e’toh. Oh, and we have to hear about Padan Fain again. Blech.

Have a great week!

Sylas K Barrett would like to know if there are any Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fans out there, as he keeps thinking that Bashere and Deira remind him a lot of General Martok and Sirella. Especially that bit where Bashere admits she can be difficult and is just grinning with pride the whole time. It’s pretty cute.

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