This week in Reading The Wheel of Time, we’re catching up with the rest of Chapter 27 and continuing on into Chapter 28. I’m going to keep the preamble short this week and get right down to business. I do apologize in advance for all the quoted sections this week. They’re all just so good! I’m not great at self-editing.
After the three Aes Sedai leave, Egwene immediately steps towards Rand, demanding to know what he’s playing at. Only afterwards does she realize that she passed through whatever weave he’s placed around her. She’s glad she wasn’t aware of actually touching it.
Rand muses thoughtfully to himself that Galina is one of Alviarin’s, which Egwene dismisses out of hand, certain that Galina is a Red. Rand reminds her that even the Reds might end up following him, and quotes a bit of prophecy about “the unstained tower.” She curses at him, but Rand only grins at her and points out that he did what she wanted, and speaks over her repeated attempts to convince him not to trust Elaida, musing about how to get her out of the Palace without the Aes Sedai finding out.
Egwene asks him how he steps from Caemlyn to Cairhien, and although it irks her to ask, he stops joking, taking her shawl in his hands.
“The Pattern,” he said. “Caemlyn,” one finger on his left hand tented the wool, “and Cairhien.” A finger on the other hand made a tent, and he brought the two tents together. “I bend the Pattern and bore a hole from one to the other. I don’t know what I bore through, but there’s no space between one end of the hole and the other.” He let the shawl drop. “Does that help?”
It doesn’t help. Egwene feels sick at the very idea of tearing a hole in the Pattern, and had hoped that the trick was more akin to how she suspects one might be able to step from the real world into Tel’aran’rhiod in the flesh. She thinks that there is a way to create what she thinks of as a similarity between the two places, and tells Rand so.
“That sounds like changing the weave of the Pattern. I think it would tear me apart if I so much as tried. I bore a hole.” He poked a finger at her to demonstrate.
Realizing that this is getting her nowhere, Egwene changes to the subject of the Sea Folk, pointing out that whatever they need to see him about must be important. Rand accuses her of jumping about “like water on a hot griddle,” then asks if she intends to stay until the Aes Sedai come back. She walks away, frustrated, and as she closes the door she hears him talking to the air.
Meanwhile, the three Aes Sedai are leaving the Palace in Arilyn’s coach. Nesune muses that Rand is a fascinating subject for study as they all sit in awkward silence. Eventually Coiren breaks it by remarking that she didn’t know that Galina is friends with Alviarin. Galina replies that one doesn’t have to be friendly with the woman to know she was well when they left, then turns the conversation to whether or not Rand could actually sense their channeling, or if he was just bluffing.
Nesune is curious why Galina would want to change the subject so quickly, diverting attention by bringing up the very subject they are all avoiding. As the two others disagree about whether or not Rand could actually tell when they were channeling, she brings up the hidden sister, who she was the only one to notice. Galina is convinced it must be Moiraine, but Coiren points out that it could be the mysterious Green they have heard rumors of. She insists that they not make any sudden decisions, and reminds the others that they have time.
Nesune reflects that, whatever happens, the paper she intends to write about Rand al’Thor will be the culmination of her life.
Rand spends the rest of the day in a temper, terrifying various High Lords and ladies, hounding Berelain and Rhuarc for news they don’t have, and even shouting at Amys and Sorilea when they come to ask him about his meeting with the Aes Sedai.
It was knowing—knowing—that Lews Therin was really there, more than a voice, a man hiding inside his head.
Rand is afraid to sleep that night, for fear that Lews Therin might take over while he’s unconscious. When he finally does sleep, he dreams of running from something. He realizes that it was Elayne he was running from, that he had was running from his fear of loving her just as he ran from his fear of loving Aviendha. He shatters his mirror with saidin, and resolves that he isn’t going to run anymore.
He heads back to the Traveling chamber, and all the Maidens escorting or joining him sense his mood, remaining silent. One of Berelain’s servants bursts into the room just as he’s making the gateway, and breathlessly hands him a letter that Rand stuffs in his pocket before heading through, the feeling of Alanna settling back into his head as he arrives in Caemlyn. Rand accepts the Bond now, since there is nothing he can do about it, and tells himself that as long as he keeps Alanna at a distance it won’t cause a problem.
Aviendha is a different story. When Rand arrives in his chamber she’s undressed, and ducks back into the sleeping room to change. Rand remarks that he’ll never understand Aiel, and his two Maiden escorts, Nandera and Jalani, inform him that it is women that he doesn’t understand, not Aiel.
Death, Lews Therin whispered.
Rand forgot everything else. Death? What do you mean?
What kind of death? Rand demanded. What are you talking about?
Who are you? Where am I?
Rand felt as though a fist had clutched his throat. He had been sure, but… This was the first time Lews Therin had said anything to him, something clearly and plainly addressed to him. I am Rand al’Thor. You are inside my head.
Inside…? No! I am myself! I am Lews Therin Telamon! I am meeeeeeeeee! The cry faded away into the distance.
Rand calls for him to come back, but gets no response. He feels unclean, like he’s had a faint brush of the taint from talking about death with a dead man in his mind.
Aviendha returns, dressed, and sees something in his face that clearly fills her with concern. When he assures her that he’s alright, her concern changes to anger, and she tells him that he has toh to her for leaving without her again. She tells Jalani and Nandera that from now on, Rand cannot be allowed to go without her, and the two Maidens immediately agree.
Mistress Harfor arrives to inform him of some new arrivals in the city, and Rand is pleased to learn they are some of the nobles who opposed “Lord Gaebril.” She also delivers a letter from the Sea-Folk Wavemistress he was supposed to meet yesterday afternoon. Rand realizes that he forgot all about that appointment, and is also reminded of the letter Berelain sent to him as he was departing Cairhien. He opens both, quickly reading some politely miffed lines from the Wavemistress he accidentally stood up, and a request to receive him on the ship White Spray at his earliest convenience.
Rand reflects that he has no real desire to spend much time with either of these women, and that none of the Prophecies of the Dragon that he’s read say anything about the Atha’an Miere. He’s been hoping that they might be one people he can avoid harming, and ponders if he can fob off the affronted Wavemistress by giving her an audience with Bashere instead.
Just then a servant arrives with another letter, dropping all the way to her knees in a posture of much more deference than even the most terrified servant. She proffers a letter on a silver tray, her face down, but Rand still recognizes Sulin. He demands to know what she is doing, and why she is wearing a servant’s dress.
Sulin turned her face up; she looked perfectly horrible, a wolf trying very hard to pretend she was a doe. “It is what women wear who serve and obey as commanded for coins.”
Rand demands a straight answer, but as soon as he has taken the letter Sulin bounds to her feet and runs off, ignoring his calls. Mistress Harfor tells Nandera that she knew this wouldn’t work, and stalks off muttering about crazy Aiel. Rand is still baffled, but eventually Aviendha tells him that Sulin is meeting her toh, and he suddenly remembers what happened before going to Shadar Logoth, and how Nandera had accused Sulin of speaking to gai’shain as Far Dareis Mai. He knows that reminding a gai’shain of their former life is considered shaming, but for certain societies it is a very deep dishonor. The Maidens are one of those societies that feel so.
Rand knows that Sulin only used the handtalk because of the time limit he gave her, and claims the whole thing is his fault, which turns out to be the wrong thing to say. He digs himself in deeper by clarifying his point as a question—since he caused Sulin to do what she did, doesn’t he have toh towards her? But this too is wrong—you aren’t supposed to not know when you have toh. The whole situation is obviously uncomfortable to the Aiel, especially Aviendha, who has been tasked with his education. He resolves to ask Aviendha about how he can meet his toh to Sulin, later in private.
He turns his attention to the letter Sulin delivered, and finds a coded message from Alliandre Maritha Kigarin, the Queen of Ghealdan. It’s written like an intimate letter to a friend or lover, clearly disguised in case it fell into the hands of Whitecloaks or the Prophet Masema. Still, Rand is pleased; this is the first time a ruler has approached him first, and her missive indicates support.
The door opens but no one comes in, and Rand returns his thoughts to the letter, wondering if he’s missing anything in her letter. He’s feeling that touch of filth again as Nandera and Jalani move to take their places outside and Aviendha puts a hand on his arm and tells him they need to talk. Suddenly Rand puts the pieces together, shoving Aviendha aside hard and seizing saidin.
His eyes want to slide past the Gray Man, but Rand wraps him in coils of air, immobilizing him. A second later a bar of fire flies over his shoulder and burns a giant hole through the Gray Man’s chest. Rand lets it fall and turns to face Taim, who is standing in the doorway of Rand’s bedchamber. He demands to know why Taim killed the man after Rand already had him captured, and what Taim is doing in his rooms anyway.
Taim tells him that he Traveled onto Rand’s balcony to tell him that he’s found a young man with the spark named Jahar Narishma, and that Rand should come back to the school and see h0w much it has changed. He explains that he channeled at the same time that Rand seized the Gray Man, and it was too late to stop.
In Rand’s head, Lews Therin wants to kill Taim, and doesn’t respond to Rand’s questions as to why. Rand realizes that Lews Therin is trying to hold onto saidin, and it’s a struggle to slowly let go of it. The moment is over quickly, but Rand is shaken by it. He gives Taim a perfunctory direction to return to the school now that his news has been delivered.
For a moment Taim’s dark eyes glittered, then he bowed his head slightly. Without a word he seized saidin and opened a gateway right there. Rand made himself sit, empty, until the man was gone, the gateway thinning in a blazing line of light; he could not risk another struggle with Lews Therin, not when he might lose and find himself fighting Taim. Why did Lews Therin want the man dead? Light, Lews Therin seemed to want everybody dead, himself included.
As Nandera and Jalani hesitate to go to their posts, Rand realizes that even though no one could expect them to spot the Gray Man, they are still ashamed of their failure and worried that the news of it might get out. He tells them that he doesn’t want anyone to know that Taim was here, and that they will simply say that a man tried to kill Rand and died for it. They both look incredibly grateful, and claim to have toh, which is not what Rand wanted but which does give him an idea of what to do about Sulin.
When the Maidens have left, Aviendha captures his attention again. She explains that ji’e’toh is the core of the Aiel, and that he has shamed her to the bone. He listens as she lectures, enjoying the sound of her voice.
Bit by bit he chased down the pleasure her eyes gave him and crushed it until only a dull ache remained.
Aviendha notices the change in his expression, trailing off and muttering “at least you understand,” and leaves the room. Rand is left alone with the dead man, which he finds fitting.
Meanwhile, Padan Fain sits in a room with his captured Myrddraal, contemplating his dagger. Since he and the dagger are part of each other, just carrying it on his belt isn’t enough—he sometimes needs to handle it. It’s difficult for him to concentrate on any one thought except for Rand al’Thor.
He could feel al’Thor, could point to him, this close. Al’Thor pulled at him, pulled till it hurt. There was a difference lately, a difference that had come suddenly, almost as if someone else had suddenly taken a partial possession of al’Thor, and in doing so pushed away a part of Fain’s own possession. No matter. Al’Thor belonged to him.
A young man and his mother, Perwyn and Nan Belman, come into the room. They are both Darkfriends who believe Fain is a high-ranking Darkfriend himself. Perwyn reports that a man tried to kill the Dragon Reborn and nearly succeeded. Fain is so angered that someone else tried to kill what was his that he needs to release it—touching the boy’s face sends him into a convulsive fit. Nan pleads for mercy as Fain paces, trying to think of how he can cause al’Thor pain, distracted by the awareness of the new tricks he can do, such as the way he touched the boy, or his ability to sense Darkfriends. Wanting to clear his mind, his attention falls on Nan. She struggles when he takes her arm, and he thinks that if he has to hurt her, it’s all al’Thor’s fault.
Despite my fundamental objection to the way Jordan has set up his binary gender divide, I still really enjoy learning more about how the One Power works. We’ve still only scratched the surface when it comes to the characters understanding channeling—Rand and the girls are no doubt going to make so many discoveries that the modern Aes Sedai don’t know about (more on that coming in Chapter 29), but even with some of the Age of Legends channeling they’ve rediscovered how to do, like Traveling, they still don’t really understand what they are doing or even how, as we see when Rand tries to explain Traveling to Egwene.
Of course, Rand’s demonstration using the shawl reminded me immediately of Mrs Whatsit’s explanation of tessering in A Wrinkle in Time—no doubt Jordan was thinking of it as well. I’m not going to try to analyze the science there, either in A Wrinkle in Time or in The Wheel of Time, because I’m not that good at either real or fictional math. But I do think it is very cool.
I’m not quite sure if there is actually any kind of overlap between the weaves that men can make and the ones women can. Obviously saidin and saidar work very differently, but both seem to work with the same elements of Air, Earth, Fire, Water, and Spirit. So to someone who could theoretically see both, a weave of saidar and a weave of saidin could be composed exactly the same way. But there are also things that one can do with one half of the One Power that one can’t do with the other half. For example, only saidar can be used for linking.
So my question about the discussion around traveling is whether or not women and men use different weaves to Travel, or if it’s just that the experience of making the weaves is so different that they can’t explain it to each other. Or to put it another way, are gateways made completely differently by men and by women, or are they actually saying the same thing in two different languages?
Egwene is horrified by Rand’s suggestion that he is boring a hole into the pattern; it feels unnatural to her, as though she would be damaging the Pattern in some way. But when she suggests to Rand the idea of “making things feel the same,” he feels like that would be trying to change the Pattern, and that such an attempt would tear him apart. Both look at the other’s explanation as somehow unnatural and terrifying, which shows just how different saidin and saidar are in the way they function. It also speaks to Moiraine’s assertion to Egwene, all the way back in The Eye of the World, that saidin isn’t actually more powerful than saidar—what seems like a natural act to Egwene Rand feels would destroy him to even attempt.
We know, of course, that Aviendha once opened a Gateway, but she doesn’t remember how she did it. This feels a little odd to me, since Nynaeve, Elayne, and Egwene are all able to pick up how to do a weave after only doing it, or seeing it done, one time. And Aviendha appears to be around as powerful as any of them. Perhaps because she was in such a panic she wasn’t focused enough to be aware of what she did. Rand also instinctively Traveled at one point, I believe, but only after detecting the residue of Asmodean’s Gateway was he able to recognize what he had done and recreate it at will.
It’s very interesting to see how much of channeling involves instinct. Our heroes have all managed to recreate powerful, complicated weaves instinctively, such as creating gateways or using balefire. Aviendha created her gateway out of a panicked need to get away, as though her ability with saidar had an instinctive self-protective quality. I have to wonder if this high level of instinctive use of channeling is limited only to those born with the spark. Rand, Egwene, Elayne, Nynaeve, and Aviendha are all wilders, after all, so perhaps those who can learn but do not touch the source instinctively have a different relationship with what kind of channeling they can learn to do without help.
If that’s true, it might explain a little more of the animosity that so many Aes Sedai have towards wilders. That prejudice has always seemed a little weird to me—I can understand why some women might develop a certain kind of disdain for the various blocks wilder’s develop, and perhaps a judgmental suspicion of wilders’ tricks. But the way wilders often seem regarded as a lower class has never quite made sense to me. Perhaps there is a kind of jealousy at work—since wilders have certain abilities and seem to generally be fairly powerful, perhaps the prejudice is an attempt by other Aes Sedai to create a superiority for themselves to counter that which wilders could be said to have.
I mean, Liandrin is one of those Aes Sedai who particularly hates wilders and she’s basically the queen of jealousy, so that checks out.
Egwene continues to frustrate me in this section. Rand is actually giving her more answers than she realizes, but she’s just not hearing them. I wish I had a little better of a sense of her emotions in these sections. In general, Egwene’s POV tend to be a little less in depth about her emotions, and I’m not sure if it’s that the POV is a little less tight or that Egwene is, I don’t know, a little bit less complex in her feelings? We get so much from the other two, especially Nynaeve, and I just want a bit more from Egwene.
That being said, it is once again pertinent to remind myself of how important the fear of the taint is in this world. I feel like I’ve said this a few times recently, but it continues to be something I struggle with in the world building of The Wheel of Time. The fact that everyone who interacts with Rand fears a new Breaking, fears the upending of the current world order, and fears the coming of Tarmon Gai’don, is always on my mind. I imagine that no one ever expects to have it come in their lifetime, and it must be quite something to suddenly have to face it. I’m always thinking about what it must like to be the Aes Sedai and be suddenly less important to the world’s future than some young shepherd boy who seemingly sprang out of nowhere. What it’s like for the Wise Ones to be confronted with the physical manifestation of a prophecy that predicts the destruction of their entire people.
But when I think about the taint on saidin, I’m mostly thinking about the madness, the fear Rand has of losing himself, the fear everyone else has of the destructive rage that always accompanies the breaking of a male channeler’s mind. I don’t often pause to reflect on what the taint on saidin symbolizes, even outside of the practical effects of its presence.
The taint is the touch of the Dark One, a being counter to the very nature of existence. The horror that one feels in Shadar Logoth or in the Ways should in theory be matched by—or even pale in comparison to—that of the Dark One. We get some sense of this from Demandred’s excursion into Shayol Ghul, but most people don’t actually experience what the Dark One’s touch really feels like, so there is less opportunity for Jordan to paint the evocative picture that he does when he describes Machin Shin, for example. But the horror of the Dark One is real in this world, and it is something that every person has been raised knowing about from birth. It never occurred to me to consider that it is not just the man who wields saidin who is to be feared, but saidin itself as well, but now that we’ve seen Egwene’s terror at having saidin all around her, it makes perfect sense, and adds another dimension to the way that people react to encountering male channelers.
My attention was also caught by Egwene’s last thoughts as she left Rand’s rooms. She considers that if Rand is already going mad there is nothing that can be done, and that the “Wheel weaved as the Wheel willed, and its weaving must be accepted.” I wonder if that adage really applies to this situation, since the taint is part of the Dark One, something outside the Pattern and not part of what the Wheel wills for the world. Or is it? Too bad Rand can’t find Herid Fel right now; he’d probably have a better sense of the truth of that statement than I do.
Speaking of the taint, it’s absolutely fascinating that Lews Therin is as horrified to realize that he is a presence in someone else’s mind as Rand was to discover he had another man’s voice and thoughts in his head. The whole situation just keeps getting more and more complex and interesting. When Lews Therin first appeared I actually thought that his presence was a normal part of being the Dragon, and that perhaps the Pattern intended for Rand to have access to his past life’s memories to help him in his battle. Then I briefly wondered if the “memories” were false, hallucinations that were untethered from the truth of who Lews Therin actually was. But the narrative confirmed for us that he was providing Rand with accurate information about the Age of Legends, proving that he was “real” in some sense of the word. But I’m still surprised that the Lews Therin persona has enough self awareness to be alarmed at being told that he’s a disembodied persona inside someone else’s mind. I can’t wait to see where this goes next! It is true, however, that Lews Therin has been pretty useful to Rand so far, teaching him little things about channeling and now even able to warn him that the Gray Man was coming. Kind of, anyway.
It’s curious that Egwene dismisses Rand’s assertion about Galina and Alviarin’s connection, considering that she knows about the Black Ajah. I would think that her mind would jump to that first, especially since she doesn’t trust Elaida and thinks that she and Alviarin are in cahoots as well. And after all, Elaida is a Red but chose a White to be her Keeper. Why shouldn’t Galina, an assumed Red sent as part of Elaida’s envoy to the Dragon Reborn, be in on their schemes? It’s almost like she’s determined to prove to Rand that she understands the Aes Sedai in a way he cannot, in order to convince him to listen to her.
Another very interesting bit of worldbuilding is the fact that the bond Alanna has created with Rand has affected whatever connection the Dark One gave Padan Fain in order for him to be able to track Rand. I find this fascinating. It’s unclear how exactly the Dark One’s powers work, but we know that his increasing ability to touch the Pattern has given him the ability to affect it in some way. So either he is able to manipulate the One Power or he has his own power that can shape and change the Pattern.
We know that the Dark One was only able to place the taint on saidin because it was exposed to him by Lews Therin and his companions during their attack on Shayol Ghul, so it seems unlikely that the Dark One is able to actually wield the One Power at any other time. We also know that the bore was first created by Lanfear and the other scientists after they detected a new source of power. This power might be what the Dark One uses to affect the pattern, and to make the changes he made in people like Fain.
It’s interesting to remember that the Dark One was able to turn Fain into his hound and set him to hunt the Dragon Reborn before Rand’s identity was known. One wonders how the Dark One was able to create such link without knowing who the Dragon was or having the ability to locate him in any other way. And yet that link is similar enough to the Warder/Aes Sedai bond that Alanna’s connection to Rand has weakened Fain’s “as if someone else had suddenly taken a partial possession of al’Thor, and in doing so pushed away a part of Fain’s own possession.”
I have to say, Taim is starting to seem very, very suspicious to me. I was really tempted to write of Lews Therin’s fear and desire to kill the man as a narrative red herring, but I am starting to suspect there’s something else going on here. Taim’s arrival and murder of the Gray Man is just too coincidental for my liking. The whole “I reacted instinctively and it was too late to stop” explanation is a pretty neat cover for something like “I was here to make sure the Gray Man succeeded and to cover any tracks it failed.” It does seem too straightforward to think that Taim is just a powerful darkfriend who is also a channeler and is also working with/for one of the Forsaken, but it is possible. It’s also possible that, since he is so powerful, that he is independently connected to the Dark One in some way. Since the Forsaken have been commanded not to kill Rand at this time, it might also explain things if Taim was high enough in the Darkfriend ranks to have access to a Gray Man but not in the circle of Forsaken who got that order.
Of course, it’s also possible that he is doing something else suspicious that isn’t directly related to this Gray Man attack in particular. Perhaps he was lingering in Rand’s rooms doing something else? Or perhaps I’m making a lot of assumptions and he really is what he seems to be on his face; a power-hungry man who has accepted that his best chance of glory is to be close to the Dragon Reborn but still resents the fact that he isn’t the chosen one.
It is interesting to me, however, to remember that the Wise Ones dreamed of a man close to Rand who he could not see and who was a danger to him. Rand assumed that this was a Gray Man, while I wondered if the dream wasn’t a little more symbolic, warning about a perceived ally who is actually a danger. Could it be Taim? I wondered. And now Taim just happens to be nearby when a Gray Man attacks Rand, and robs Rand of the ability to interrogate the creature.
Although I have to wonder, can Gray Men even communicate? They are not actually dead but they have no souls, so I wonder how things like independent thinking and talking would even work for them.
My final thought for this week is that I love the Brown Ajah. Every Brown we’ve ever spent any time with is just a dream, and Jordan strikes a nice balance where he makes them both comedic and interesting. The Whites might be the logical and philosophical Ajah, but the Browns have a fascinating perspective as scholars and scientists, and I think it’s really interesting how they are often overlooked by the other Ajahs. Reading from Nesune’s POV reminded me a lot of Verin, and I’m interested to see if she catches anything else suspicious about Galina now that Rand has alerted her to Galina’s connection to Alviarin. That would be a very interesting way to root out more of the Black Ajah.
Next week will be a very exciting week, because Nynaeve has finally made an incredible breakthrough which will change the lives of several of our protagonists in profound ways and really shake things up for the Aes Sedai. It’s Chapters 29 and 30. I’m very much looking forward to it.
If Sylas were to become an Aes Sedai, he would be probably join the Yellow Ajah. Even though the Browns might be the coolest.