Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: Lots of Animal Metaphors in Robert Jordan’s Lord of Chaos (Part 27)

Welcome back to Reading The Wheel of Time! This week we’re covering Chapters 45 and 46, in which Perrin meets his in-laws, Rand muses on need, and a member of the Salidar embassy gets stabbed in the name of the Dragon Reborn. Twice.

Perrin, riding under his wolf head banner with his column of mounted farmers, Bain, Chiad, Gaul, Faile, and Aram, arrives at the Whitebridge Gate, where he finds a mounted patrol of Saldaeans blocking the way. Faile studiously avoids making eye contact with any of them. Aram wants to fight, and the Aiel veil themselves, but Perrin tells everyone sternly that there will be no fighting. He introduces himself to the Saldaeans, saying that Rand al’Thor will want to see him. Learning that no noble may enter the gates with more than twenty armed men or fifty servants, Perrin gives orders for everyone to return to a nearby field and make camp, and Vilnar agrees to escort the rest of them to Rand. The Aiel leave to find their compatriots. They are taken into the Palace and stop before a pair of doors carved with lions. A moment later, Rand appears in the doorway.

“Perrin! Faile! The Light shine on your wedding day,” he laughed, kissing Faile lightly. “I wish I could have been there for it.” She looked as confused as Perrin felt.

Rand explains that Bode and the others from the Two Rivers are in Caemlyn with Verin and Alanna, then invites them in. When Perrin sees Min inside, he excitedly catches her up and spins her around, before turning to introduce her to Faile. He has told Faile about Min, but he suddenly notices the scent of jealousy on Faile and sets Min down quickly.

Rand asks about Loial, and Perrin explains that the Ogier needed a stedding, and that Perrin showed him where to find one not far from here. They chat about that while Faile and Min talk, and Perrin notices Faile’s jealousy smell ebbing away. She takes Perrin aside to remind him that Rand isn’t just his old friend anymore, and that he must stand up for himself and for the Two Rivers. Then she leaves to talk with Min.

Perrin asks after Mat, and Rand explains that he’s supposed to be bringing Elayne home to be crowned, then asks Perrin if he will go to Tear for him. He explains that he can have Perrin there the same night, and that he can sleep in a general’s tent. Perrin answers no, and that there is someone in Caemlyn he needs to see, but Rand continues talking, listing all the different problems he’s trying to manage at once. Perrin is surprised and saddened to learn of Moiraine’s death, and Rand reacts harshly when Perrin suggests asking Alanna or Verin for their advice. Perrin decides to ask Faile to find out what’s going on—she always seemed to get along with Verin and Alanna.

Perrin is shocked a second time when Rand tells him that the rumors of a split in the White Tower are true. He asks if Rand is sure that it’s a good idea to play the two sides off each other this way.

Not that simple, Perrin, though they don’t know it,” Rand said smugly, shaking his head. “There’s a third side, ready to kneel to me. If they make contact again. Light! This isn’t how we should be spending our first hour together again, talking about Aes Sedai. Emond’s Field, Perrin.

They talk about all the changes, physical, economic, and social that have occurred recently in the Two Rivers, and Rand even sounds like his old self for a while. Eventually, however, he admits that he has no intention of visiting the camp where Perrin left the rest of his followers—he can’t protect Mat or Perrin, but he can protect the others. This turns the conversation in a more somber direction, and Rand asks Perrin to think about Tear, promising to tell him the whole plan if Perrin agrees. But Perrin needs to keep the plan a secret, even from Faile.

“I can hold my tongue,” Perrin said stiffly. And a little sadly. The new Rand was back. “And I will think on Tear.”

Perrin doesn’t pay much attention while Rand is ordering his rooms set up, because he has caught sight of Lord Bashere down the hallway—he can tell who it is just by the way Faile’s father is looking at him. After saying goodbye to Rand, Perrin approaches the man and bows, introducing himself politely. Bashere leads Perrin to an empty sitting room before lambasting him about how “Zarine” must have told him all about his estates and the Broken Crown before Perrin married her, and what has Perrin done to his daughter? Perrin, wanting to make a good impression, responds calmly, explaining all the various stories Faile made up about her father being a trader, and how he almost reconsidered marrying her after he found out the truth. He also explains her new name, and Bashere becomes momentarily excited before recalling himself and accusing him of trying to change the subject.

Bashere tells him that the Two Rivers marriage ceremony means nothing without Deira’s consent, as Faile is not yet old enough to marry without it. And if Deira does not give it, Bashere gets to kill Perrin. Perrin discovers that he’s quite angry, and he accidentally crushes his wine cup in his fist before declaring that he will come for Faile if Bashere takes her from him, despite the nine thousand men Bashere has with him. The general observes that it might be a shame to kill Perrin, since the house needs new blood and they all are becoming soft. Perrin is surprised that Bashere would say something like that, and confused about his constantly changing attitude. When Bashere asks what kind of man he is, Perrin confesses that he is not really a lord but merely a blacksmith and it makes Bashere start laughing.

“Boy, the Creator never made the Houses. Some forget it, but go far enough back in any House, and you’ll find a commoner who showed uncommon courage or kept his head and took charge when everybody else was running around like plucked geese. Mind you, another thing some like to forget is the road down can be just as sudden.”

He suggests that it is time to go talk to Deira, and before they go into the room where Faile and her mother are, Perrin hears fighting, both verbal and physical. Upon meeting Lady Deira, Perrin is impressed by her appearance—she is quite tall, and Perrin can see where Faile gets her beauty from. He expects Lady Deira to give him the same lecture as Bashere did, but instead of telling him to be good to Faile, she immediately asks if Perrin is strong enough to handle her daughter. She tells Perrin that if a woman is stronger than her husband, she comes to despise him, because she either has to choose to tyrannize him or to diminish herself. However, if her husband is stronger, she can grow to be as strong as she is capable of being. She also pokes him a lot in the chest, very hard.

Perrin growls at her to stop poking him, and answers that if he indulges Faile sometimes, it is because he wants to, and that he is not going to trample on her.

Maybe he had lost with that. Faile’s mother began staring at him in a most peculiar way, and her scent was a tangle he could not make out, though anger was still in it, and icy disdain. But good impression or no, he was done with trying to say what Bashere and his wife wanted to hear. “I love her, and she loves me, and that’s the whole of it as far as I’m concerned.”

Bashere tells her about Perrin’s claim that he will come for Faile if they try to take her from him, and when Deira starts in on Perrin again, he interrupts and tells her that is enough. She looks at Perrin “as if to say that was the way a man should handle a woman,” while Bashere begins to mutter about grandchildren and making the blood strong again. Faile, meanwhile, sits demurely in her seat and gives Perrin a smile that looks almost submissive. Perrin wonders if he has married into a family where everyone is mad.

Meanwhile in his room, Rand finishes his punch. He hopes that Perrin gets along with Bashere, but also considers that conflict might make Perrin more amenable to the idea of going to Tear. Min comes in, pours herself some punch, and drops down into his lap. He has become her favorite chair lately, and Rand is doing his best to not let on how much it affects him, convinced that if she finds out she’ll never give up the joke. Min tells Rand that Faile wanted to make sure that Min didn’t have any designs on Perrin, as though it wasn’t perfectly obvious how besotted Perrin is with her. She mutters that Perrin has found his falcon and that Min wouldn’t be surprised if she kills Perrin when the hawk appears.

Rand guesses that the reference is to a vision, and he knows that Min will explain if he asks. But he knows that Min doesn’t like talking about visions that aren’t about Rand, so he only asks if she saw anything that concerns him, earning himself a grateful look. She tells him that when they were together, the sparks of light she always sees around Rand seemed to be winning against the darkness, instead of the other way around. She also tells him that there will be two moments that Perrin will need to be with Rand or something very bad will happen. Worse, however, is that she isn’t sure that Perrin being there will stop the bad thing, only that it will definitely happen if he isn’t.

She seems very distressed, admitting that she doesn’t like to think about it, and Rand takes her face in his hands. He suggests she come to him less often, for fear that the Aes Sedai will find out what she’s doing, but Min assures him that they believe she is just gawking at the sights like a country simpleton. Then she kisses him lightly, and Rand admits he wishes she wouldn’t do that. Min remarks on her way out that he is flushed, but that there is no stammer and no tears yet.

Lews Therin, who has been growing louder in his mind since the Aes Sedai were mentioned, comes to the surface, muttering about how nine are too many and about doing something about the Aes Sedai plotting with the nobles. Rand reminds him again that he is dead and manages to quiet him, but he still weeps and murmurs in the background.

Demira, a Brown Sister, hovers just outside the gate into the Inner City, hoping to see Milam Harnder, Second Librarian in the Royal Palace. He has been her agent for over thirty years, but eventually decides that the man must not have received her message. Demira wants very much to search the Palace Library for information on the Seals around the Dark One’s prison. Aiel are guarding the gates, and might recognize an Aes Sedai—Demira has already noticed others trailing her since she left the Crown of Roses, no doubt keeping an eye on all the Aes Sedai’s doings. She can’t risk going in even if she was willing to risk Merana’s wrath by breaking al’Thor’s rule that all Aes Sedai must have permission to enter the Inner City.

Still, without Harnder she realizes she will have to wait until the next embassy to the Palace and then ask al’Thor’s permission to look in the library. She turns away, and, annoyed by some flirtatious looks she is getting from some of the nearby men, steps down an alley instead of using the main streets. A group of Aiel is coming down the other way towards her, laughing and talking. They seem surprised to see her, then step out of her way. As she passes, however, one of them sticks a spear in her side. She reaches for saidar as she is stabbed a second time, but it slips from her and she falls into darkness.

After dismissing Sulin, Faile asks Perrin to undo her dress for her. Perrin tries to ask about the broken crown, but Faile avoids answering, telling him instead that Rand has left the Palace. She has learned a little of maiden handtalk from Bain and Chiad, and was able to catch them talking about it. She warns Perrin that he should know what Rand is doing behind his back. Perrin orders her not to spy on Rand, going so far as to demand to see some of the obedience she and her mother were talking about. Faile promises that she won’t spy, telling him that she is “obedient to [her] lord husband” and then suggesting that they get started on those grandchildren her mother told them she expects. She suggests that they might get Deira off their backs if Faile can tell her to expect the first soon.

Demira awakes in a bed with Merana, the Yellow sister Berenicia, and her Warder, Stevan, standing around her bed. They inform her that a man came into the Crown of Roses to tell them that a group of Aiel was following an Aes Sedai of her description and were going to kill her. A moment later Stevan felt her injuries. They discuss the fact that the attack and the warning were clearly part of the same message, and that it seems as though they were intended to find Demira before she died.  Demira suddenly remembers the words that one of the Aiel said to her as she was falling “Tell the other witches to stay away from the Dragon Reborn.”

They all agree that Rand must be responsible for this attack, and discuss how best to show him the error for his ways without being so strict as to scare him off. Eventually, Demira suggests that the best course of action will be to say nothing—if he denies their accusations they have no proof to offer, but saying nothing might make him anxious, wondering why they haven’t done anything and what they might do.

Just then, Verin comes into the room and sits, curtly telling Merana and Berenicia to do the same. When Merana starts to make a suggestion, Verin cuts her off, telling them that Demira has the right to first suggestion. When Merana backs down, Demira wonders if this means that Merana will resign the embassy to Verin.

 

Fellas, is it gay if your ta’veren tugs at your buddy’s ta’veren? Asking for a friend.

Look, I don’t mean to make things kinky, but Jordan builds so much kink into the One Power-forged connections whenever they are between men and women or between two women, and then I’m supposed to just think nothing of the way Perrin and Mat are drawn to circle Rand like planets around a sun, the way Rand’s need for them is described over and over in the text? Yeah.

I have to be honest, despite the continual weirdness of gender roles in The Wheel of Time, I heartily enjoyed the entire section with Faile’s parents. It was just so funny! Jordan did a really great job with the narration, and his comic pacing is really great. I was laughing at poor Perrin’s confusion. And Deira’s whole “my daughter is a leopard, teach her to be a hunting dog or she’ll claw your face off!” thing was really something.

The gender dynamics of Saldaea aside, I appreciated the realism of Bashere and Deira testing Perrin with rules and customs he doesn’t understand and that no one is explaining to him. We see this a lot in The Wheel of Time—people are always expecting those of other cultures to inherently understand and share their own customs and values, as though they were universal. The Aiel are probably the greatest example of this—they’re used to it now, but in the early days they always expected Rand and the other wetlanders to have the same social conventions that they do, despite being aware of many differences in their cultures. Nynaeve is another example—she’s always perplexed and derisive over cultures that don’t share Two Rivers values and customs. It’s a really interesting theme that Jordan is always playing with as increasing numbers of different people from different worlds interact with each other, thrown together by the rebirth of the Dragon and the coming of Tarmon Gai’don.

How old is Faile, anyway? I was under the impression that she was the same age as Perrin, give or take a year or two, and our Two Rivers kids are… in their 20s now? I guess I don’t really know how old anyone is. Or how much time has passed between book one and now. I’m not very good at keeping track of these things, as a reader, but I’m also not sure that has been made clear anywhere in the text. There have been references to Egwene coming of age in the first book and certain characters have acknowledged that Rand, Mat, and Perrin aren’t boys anymore, but that’s pretty subjective, and can refer to attitude and experience as much as physical age.

Ah! I have found a clue. When Rand meets Taim, he ponders over how long Taim has managed to remain sane, and that “Rand had clung to sanity for close to two years, so far.” So that tells us about how long it’s been since the end of The Eye of the World. Assuming the Two Rivers kids were still in their teens during that book (and Egwene is a few years younger than the boys, I think) that would only put them at age twenty at most. And if Faile is maybe a few years younger than Perrin, that would make her somewhere around 17 or 18, potentially.

Of course, it’s possible that women in Saldaea can’t marry without their mother’s permission until they’re 25! Or older! That would be different from most of what we’ve seen of other Randland societies, but it’s certainly possible. The real point here is that I realized that I might be picturing our protagonists slightly older than they actually are, and now I’ve gotten completely distracted thinking about it.

As a trans person, it gives me a lot of joy to see Faile’s mother accept her new name so easily. Her father too, really—he keeps forgetting and saying Zarine, but he’s proud that she became a Hunter for the Horn, and he admits that Faile suits her better than Zarine. Names are important, and sometimes the name you are given just doesn’t suit you, for whatever reason. It makes sense to allow someone to change it, especially in a society that puts so much store behind titles and the bestowing of titles and what those things say about someone’s identity.

Bashere tells Perrin that Faile is soft, but not weak, and I’m not sure I understand what the distinction is. Rand is always said to be “hard” now, which I also struggle to understand the exact meaning of. I think it’s closer to what I would call being “cold” or “cold-blooded.” The ability to put personal feeling aside and do what needs to be done, even if you experience personal pain because of the choices you must make. The ability to sacrifice yourself and others for the sake of the big picture. Logic without emotion, maybe.

If “soft” is therefore the opposite of this “hardness” or “coldness,” then I think I can see what Bashere is saying. Faile is one tough cookie (aka not weak) but she is somewhat ruled by her emotions. I couldn’t see her easily sacrificing what is closest to her or putting others’ needs before her own. Which I don’t see as a bad thing—she’s still a good, heroic person—but the narrative of The Wheel of Time is very bound up in the themes of personal sacrifice and the idea that any amount of suffering is preferable to, you know, having the Dark One escape his prison and remake the world.

I am worried about the jealousy thing, though. If Faile being jealous and insecure in her relationship with Perrin is going to become a lasting plot point, I am going to hate that a lot. Like, girl, you married that man. He grew a beard for you. There is no reason for her to suspect Perrin of infidelity, ever. He’s probably the least capable of cheating, or even having a wandering eye, of any man in this series. I think I can give her this one, considering that she’s also dealing with the worry of introducing him to her parents and maybe her mom telling her dad to kill him, but I really hope this doesn’t become a lasting problem. It was annoying enough when they were just courting.

Speaking of suffering, Min’s vision about bad things happening to Rand is certainly alarming. Not surprising, really, but I suppose he’s narratively due to be captured or having some kind of horrible confrontation with one of the Forsaken at this point. You know, just to spice up these chapters of political intrigue with a little bit of horrible torture. I’m also quite worried about the Aes Sedai machinations of going to the Andoran nobles behind Rand’s back. Interestingly, Min managed to learn about that only because she chanced to see Merana in a window, but it hasn’t occurred to her Merana might be suspicious of her, deliberately hiding what the Aes Sedai are up to because they think she’s sharing their plans with Rand. Which… I guess is fair, considering that the Aes Sedai don’t generally share their plans with non-Aes Sedai. But Min’s  confidence that they think she’s just exploring Caemlyn all the time seems somewhat naive—she doesn’t realize how easy it is to see that she is in love with him.

It seems likely that whoever sent the Aiel after Demira is also the person who sent the Aiel assassins after Mat—some Forsaken perhaps who has gotten a contingent of them under their control, either through bribery or perhaps using the One Power. It was natural to assume the Shaido were the ones who attacked Mat, but the real question is if a group of Shaido could pass through Caemlyn without being recognized by any of the other Aiel. There are a lot of Aiel in Caemlyn, it’s not like they all know each other. As long as the infiltrators were somewhat circumspect, I imagine they could get away with it pretty easily.

Come to think of it, there’s no actual proof that the men who attacked Demira were Aiel. If they were wetlanders dressed like Aiel most people would never know the difference—Egwene was always taken for one all the time, despite being very short and not having Aiel coloring. Speaking of which, the “villainous-faced” man who gave Demira the message was described as being squat and having black eyes, which is not a typical Aiel look.

If someone wanted to sow (more) discord between Rand and the Aes Sedai, this is definitely a good way to go about it. No one would believe that Aiel weren’t acting on Rand’s orders—everyone knows their loyalty to him, and most Wetlanders don’t really understand the difference between the Shaido and the rest of the Aiel. Even Mat isn’t sure about it. And of course, the choice the Aes Sedai are making to punish Rand is the most damaging possible choice, because he’ll never hear about the fact that there are Aiel (or pretend Aiel) going around stabbing Aes Sedai, ostensibly in his name.

I think there’s probably clues in the phrasing of the threat, as well: The message given to Demira uses the term “witches” for the Aes Sedai and refers to Rand as the Dragon Reborn rather than by name (or by his Aiel title). That pretty much rules out the chance that this was a group of Rand’s Aiel acting on their own initiative, but I’m not sure what else it tells us. I feel a little bit like I’m missing something.

Despite the fact that Rand is being guarded until he can secure Perrin’s promise to go to Tear, he was still pretty open with his friend. We even got a few more details about his thoughts and plans from that conversation, as he shared with Perrin the truth of how the White Tower split has given him more freedom than he otherwise would have had, as well as the complexities of navigating the different factions. I was pretty alarmed when he said there was a third group ready to kneel to him, though. He’s not thinking of Alviarin’s letter, is he? Of course, he has no reason to suspect her as Black Ajah or anything, but surely he’d be suspicious that such an obsequious letter from an Aes Sedai is almost definitely a trap. I can’t think of who else he’d mean, though, unless he’s referencing something we the readers haven’t been shown yet.

I’m really hoping (though I recognize that it isn’t particularly likely) that Perrin and Rand will be able to bond a little now that they’re in the same place again. Of all the characters, their journeys are the most similar, merely on different scales. In the opening section of Chapter 45, Perrin reflects on his dream—one he thinks that Faile would laugh at—of having a small house in the country far away from the city, and far away from danger. It’s the same dream that Rand has. Even Mat wants cities and adventure, albeit in a way that involves less responsibility and a lot less danger—and the same goes for most of the main female characters, including Nynaeve at this point. Of course nothing can compare to being the Dragon Reborn, but like Rand, Perrin hates that he has become a noble, especially the way it changes his relationship with others. I remember he and Rand being on a parallel journey earlier in the series, as they both grappled with the fact that being a general means accepting that people will die in your service, and from your choices.

There’s a beautiful parallel in these chapters for the two of them, as well. During their conversation Perrin finds himself worried about Rand’s continued sanity, and thinking that it must hold at least until Tarmon Gai’don. “What a way to think about a friend,” he muses later. Then in Chapter 46 as Rand ponders over the fact that Bashere might drive Perrin to want to go to Tear, he has the same thought: “Light, what a way to think about a friend.”

They’re such good boys.

Next week we cover Chapter 47 and 48, in which we’ll rejoin Mat, Elayne, and Nynaeve on their trip into Ebou Dar. I have to say, I’m expecting something very dramatic to happen after all this build up. Until then, please enjoy some random thoughts that didn’t make it into the body of my analysis. And stay cool out there!

Random thoughts:

This isn’t new, but I was musing during the opening paragraphs about how much I enjoy the fact that Jordan gave the people of the Two Rivers the English-style longbow. Robin Hood stories were pretty much my first literary love when I was small, and I also went through a brief phase as a teen where I was obsessed with Shakespeare’s history plays, especially Henry V. There’s a very specific romantic hero type that is invoked in western literature by the English longbow, and it just does a lot for me as a reader.

I was 100% with Perrin when he declared that Aram had a right to learn swordplay and to fight to defend himself, but that doesn’t look like it’s going well at all. Aram’s reaction to seeing the Saldaeans at the gate was pretty unhinged, as though he wanted to fight just to fight. Later, Perrin mentally compares the former tinker to a wolfhound, and muses that he doesn’t know what to do about it. I will be shocked if Aram’s apparent bloodlust doesn’t become a problem pretty quickly, even though he seems very loyal to Perrin at the moment. I also find it interesting that he’s taken up the sword but has not chosen to stop dressing like a Tinker.

Demira’s observations about the strays in the alley:

Cats seemed to sense something about Aes Sedai; she had never heard of an Aes Sedai being scratched by even the most feral cat. Dogs were hostile, true, almost as if they thought Aes Sedai were cats, but they almost always slinked away after a little show.

This is fun because it plays into the witches thing, but also kind of dumb because it’s doing that “cats are girls, dogs are boys,” thing. Y’all gonna tell me cats are connected to saidar or something?

I also really liked Vilnar and his opening section. It was very engaging, and another example of Jordan’s abilities as a writer.

Sylas K Barrett would love a father in law like Bashere, to be honest. He’s a great character. But he would definitely find Sylas to be too soft.

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