This week in Reading The Wheel of Time, Cadsuane interrogates Merana, Min and Rand share news of death and comfort each other, and Sevanna plays with fire. Weaves of fire, which she can’t even see.
Hmm. I think that metaphor got away from me.
Kind of how the situation is getting away from Sevanna. Also, I think Ishamael might be back.
It’s Chapters 19 and 20 of A Crown of Swords!
Merana and Annoura follow Cadsuane down to the small, shabby room in the palace that is shared by Bera and Kiruna. Daigian, the least powerful woman to attain the shawl, is there, waiting on Cadsuane. Merana tries unsuccessfully not to be in awe of Cadsuane, who is something of a legend among the Aes Sedai—the strongest Aes Sedai in her lifetime, until Elayne came to the White Tower. She’s very adventurous and rumored to have deliberately avoided both being raised to the head of the Green Ajah as well as possibly being raised Amyrlin, preferring instead to adventure out in the world. She retired at one point, only to reemerge during the Aiel War with three Warders at her side.
It was said Cadsuane had had more Warders over the years than most sisters had shoes. After the Aiel retreated from Tar Valon, she retired once more, but some said, more than half-seriously, that Cadsuane would never die so long as even a spark of adventure remained in the world.
Merana scolds herself for thinking like a novice, but she struggles with her wording as she tries to ask Cadsuane why she has come and what her intentions are. Cadsuane only remarks that if you want to know the mettle of a man then you have to push him; she observes that Rand is full of anger and only barely hanging onto it, and muses that he is not as hard as Taim or Logain, but that he will probably be more difficult to control.
A yellow named Corele Hovian brings Bera and Kiruna, and Cadsuane proceeds to grill the four on everything from whether or not there is any proof that the Forsaken are loose, the state of mind of the various Aes Sedai now sworn to Rand, Moiraine’s death, and countless other subjects. Merana is particularly worried when she is able to discover that Rand was taken prisoner by Elaida’s followers; fortunately she doesn’t dig far enough to learn about his treatment while he was a captive, as Rand has made it very clear how displeased he’d be if that information got out. As the questions continue, Merana considers that their oath to Rand—which has no loopholes—might mean that they would eventually be forced to oppose Cadsuane, and possibly many other sisters as well.
Min hurries down the corridor to Rand’s apartments, where she enters without being announced. She’s shocked to find his room in disarray, the mirror shattered and all the furniture upturned, with the dragon scepter driven through the back of one chair. Rand is sitting staring at nothing. Min walks over to him, cautious but unafraid, thinking of her love for him and the fact that she has to share him. Thinking about how she knows that he loves her too, though he refuses to admit it.
Did he think that just because mad Lews Therin Telamon had killed the woman he loved, he was fated to as well?
“I’m glad you came,” he said suddenly, still staring at the ceiling. “I’ve been sitting here alone. Alone.” He gave a bitter bark of a laugh. “Herid Fel is dead.”
“No,” she whispered, “not that sweet little old man.”
Rand tells her about Fel’s brutal murder, about how Idrien found him and how it must have been Shadowspawn. He assumes that Fel must have been killed to stop him from telling Rand something, but neither Rand nor Min can think of what it might be. Rand sees the grief on Min’s face and apologizes for not softening the blow when he told her.
Min tells Rand that she hoped that his decision to spare Colavaere’s life would change the outcome of the vision she had of the woman dying by hanging. She wanted to believe that his ta’veren nature and ability to affect the Pattern might have changed the viewing, but she just came from Colavaere’s apartments where she found the woman dead, having hanged herself rather than face the future Rand decreed for her.
Rand tells Min he wishes he could take the pain of her visions from her, and Min asks him to kiss her, promising that she isn’t teasing and claiming that she needs to feel something warm. Rand kisses her hesitantly at first, then with more enthusiasm, and Min thinks that if he tries to stop she will fetch some spears from the Maidens and stab him.
Leaving the Sun Palace, Cadsuane studies the Wise Ones she passes, careful not to be too obvious. She’s surprised by the open hostility and disdain she sees on the women’s faces. She considers that she will have to get most of them sent to the Tower eventually, regardless of their age, but that the most important thing is keeping herself close to Rand.
Once in her coach, she complains to Daigian and Corele that Elaida, who she refers to as a fool child, has made Cadsuane’s task nearly impossible. Then she laughs, thinking about how the fastest way to make her interested in anything has always been to tell her that it is impossible.
It has been two days since the battle at Dumai’s Wells, and Sevanna has still not recovered most of her followers. Sitting in a circle with some of the Wise Ones who are bound to her, she shows them the little box she got from the wetlander Caddar. The Wise Ones are reluctant, but eventually channel at the box, following the instructions Caddar gave Sevanna, and are surprised when this triggers the box to draw power on its own, including saidin. They are all quite startled when they hear a man’s voice, but Sevanna tells them off.
Caddar speaks to them through the box, asking Sevanna if she has al’Thor. She had been intending to lie, but something in the man’s voice makes her change her mind, and she admits that she does not. She tries to arrange a meeting with him, but Caddar simply tells her to wait where she is and to have her Wise One continue channeling until he comes. Sevanna is incensed by the way he speaks to her, calling her girl, and everyone thinks that the man might be mad, and some worry that he might be like the black-coated men they encountered at Dumai’s Wells.
They continue to wonder, and to bicker, until they hear sounds among the trees. A man and a woman emerge into view, apparently in the midst of an argument, and Sevanna recognizes Caddar. One of the Wise Ones, Someryn, whispers to Sevanna that the woman is very strong in the One Power. Sevanna instructs Someryn to sit next to her, so that she can discreetly signal whenever the woman channels.
Caddar introduces his companion as Maisia, which seems to infuriate her. He tells Sevanna that he did not bring the item that would allow her to control Rand al’Thor, since she does not have him. Sevanna asks if the device could also be used to control Aes Sedai. He is amused by this, but says that he could provide such devices, for a price.
“Your tongue tosses bright colors on the wind, wetlander,” Tion said in a flat voice. “What proof of them have you?” For once, Sevanna did not mind that she had spoken out of turn.
Caddar’s face tightened for all the world as if he were a clan chief, as if he had heard the insult, but in an instant he was all smiles once more. “As you wish. Maisia, play with the callbox for them.”
Someryn lets Sevanna know that the woman is channeling as the callbox lifts into the air and spin. Maisia is clearly angry, but the callbox doesn’t return to the ground until Caddar instructs her to put it back. Sevanna is elated, already fantasizing about the ability to control those of her Wise Ones who are being difficult or disrespectful. She also asks about the ability to travel great distances quickly, and is told that there are traveling boxes that Caddar can also provide. He tells Sevanna that she can use them to take her people to richer lands.
A watcher sneaks through the trees, unobserved as Sammael and Graendal leave the Shaido. He watches Sammael release the link between them, and wonders if that was a wise decision.
The watcher followed and listened. They had no idea. The True Power, drawn directly from the Great Lord, could neither be seen nor detected except by who wielded it. Black flecks floated across his vision. There was a price, to be sure, one that grew with each use, but he had always been willing to pay the price when it was necessary.
The watcher hears Sammael remark that he never expected the silly girl to propose exactly what he wanted, and Graendal asks about Sammael breaking his truce with Rand. Sammael responds that he had nothing to do with Rand’s kidnapping, but that Mesaana did, and possibly Demandred and Semirhage as well.
Graendal tells Sammael that she will not teach the Wise Ones anything, and asks what Sammael’s plan is. Sammael mockingly asks if she really thought he was telling the truth, and assures her that the Shaido will go where he sends them, do as he wishes, and be satisfied with what he gives them, just as she will. Graendal tells Sammael that if he calls her Maisia again, she will kill him.
Her voice held even less expression than her face. She meant it. The watcher tensed. If she tried, one of the two would die. Should he interfere? Black flecks sped across his eyes, faster, faster.
Sammael met her stare with one just as hard. “Remember who will be Nae’blis, Graendal,” he said, and stepped through his gateway.
Grandael hesitates, starting to make her own gateway, then lets it go instead and follows Sammael. The watcher reflects that Sammael claiming that he has been promised the title of Nae’blis is even more dangerous than lying about a truce with Rand. Unless, of course, he isn’t lying. The watcher considers going back to kill Sevanna and the others, but decides to leave it alone for now.
To his ears, the world screamed as he used the True Power to rip a small hole and step outside the Pattern. Sammael did not know how truly he spoke. Small increases in chaos could be every bit as important as large.
I just realized that, for those who read the series in real time as each book was published, and for those who stuck strictly to reading in publishing order, this is the first time the reader has met Cadsuane. I, of course, cheated a bit and read New Spring already, so it took me a moment to remember that this is actually her introduction into the series. One of the reasons I’m inclined to (cautiously) trust her is because of New Spring, and the fact that she seemed to be one of the good guys. Although it’s also true that Moiraine and Siuan believed that she must either be Black Ajah or one of Tamara’s searchers—if she was the latter, that raises some questions. How did she survive after all the others were killed? Has she also been searching for Rand all this time?
It’s an interesting idea. Personally, I suspect that Cadsuane wasn’t one of the designated searchers, but that she noticed something was going on and started sniffing around on her own. She had just come out of her retirement because of the Aiel War, so she was around to catch wind of the unusual behavior; she certainly seems canny enough to have made some conclusions on her own, or at least to have been suspicious.
Reading about Merana’s impression of her and Cadsuane’s reputation as an adventurer definitely made me like her more. It actually made me think of Siuan and Moiraine—those two also dreamed of life outside the Tower and having adventures once they were full sisters. If they hadn’t been privy to Gitara’s Foretelling, Moiraine and Siuan probably would have pursued a life very much like the one Cadsuane has reportedly had. If Rand had never been born in their lifetimes, and since they were both quite strong in the Power, they could have eventually ended up quite like Cadsuane, marching to the beat of their own drums as two of the eldest and most powerful sisters alive.
Cadsuane’s nosiness is kind of entertaining, at least for me, who doesn’t have to face her questioning. I also found it interesting how she, as Merana observes, bounced around from topic to topic instead of a more focused interrogation on one subject at a time. I’m curious as to whether this was an intentional tactic, or if Cadsuane wasn’t sure what information was most important, or if it was a flaw in her interrogation technique. She seems like someone who gets bored easily, which might lead to being distracted or losing the thread of her questioning. Though it’s clear she’s capable of a great deal of concentration when she has a reason to be focused.
Cadsuane’s interrogation was also a good reminder to me of how little most of the Aes Sedai know, especially the ones that don’t have contact with Egwene, Elayne, and Nynaeve. It’s only recently that the Salidar Aes Sedai have confirmed the truth about the Asha’man—the Tower Aes Sedai know they have gathered but doubt reports of their numbers and their strength. And those who are out in the world doing things aren’t receiving the reports or information that those gathered with Egwene or even Elaida are privy to. They were at Dumai’s Wells, but that was a battle—chaotic, face-paced, and full of death and destruction. Cadsuane questions as to whether they can be sure that the Asha’man are capable of Traveling or if it’s just Rand are understandable—and as we see, even those sisters who witnessed it can’t say for sure.
Cadsuane even mentions that rumor that the Forsaken are loose—she doesn’t doubt it, but that’s also a reminder that there are so many people, even powerful players, who haven’t (knowingly) encountered the Forsaken yet, or even met someone else who has had such an encounter. Which brings us to Sevanna.
I don’t like her at all, she’s a terrible person, but I still feel a little bit bad for her because she is so in over her head. Do the Aiel even know that the Forsaken are a thing? Obviously they know about the Dark One, but if they aren’t even concerned with the Dragon as an entity, it’s just likely that they have no prophecies or stories about the Forsaken. It’s possible that a few people’s ancestors might have had specific memories of the Forsaken when they were newly-minted Darkfriends fighting Lews Therin in the wars before the Breaking, but it seems pretty unlikely they would know any specifics about these channelers who have been granted immortality (of a sort) by the Dark One, nevermind that they were bound with him in his prison and thus could be released back into the world again.
Still, Sevanna is so sure that she has the edge over “Caddar” despite knowing nothing about him, or the call box, or the mysterious lady channeler who is with him. Even given the general Aiel opinion of the intelligence of wetlanders, having basically no information about the person she is dealing with should give any sensible woman pause. But I guess Sevanna has done pretty well for herself being brazen instead of smart—she claimed the identity of a Wise One despite not doing an apprenticeship or going to Rhuidean, she made herself the clan-chief of the Shaido through sheer stubborn insistence, and she even convinced the Wise Ones to fight in battle, something completely unheard of in the entire history of the Aiel. It makes sense that she’s feeling a bit drunk on her own successes, even with the failure at Dumai’s Wells.
And here she is bullying her Wise Ones more, and thinking about the things she’ll do to them, and to “Caddar” and “Maisia” once she is done using them. Still, I have a feeling she’s the one who is going to suffer in the end.
Sammael’s plan is a pretty good one. Using the Shaido Aiel to attack and disrupt the forces of various nations will sow more discord among the ranks of Rand’s allies, and potential allies, especially because most wetlanders don’t make a distinction between the Aiel clans. They’ll just see Aiel warriors, which they already view as bloodthirsty barbarians, and who they know follow the Dragon Reborn. Carridin isn’t the only one who’s figured out how to make it look like those who are loyal to Rand are doing bad things. And that’s more than a little worrying.
I don’t think the watcher here is the same person as the man who was watching outside Fallion and Ispan’s house—the narration feels pretty different. But it could be, since the one watching Sammael and Graendal was able to… well, it’s not Traveling, exactly. But he’s able to step outside the Pattern which certainly suggests that he could be able to travel distances in a similar way to the Traveling or Skimming. A similar but much more horrible way, if “the world screamed as he used the True Power to rip a small hole and step outside the Pattern,” is anything to go by.
I’m guessing the True Power is the power that Lanfear and her friends were trying to get at when they drilled the Bore. It’s ironic that they’re calling it the True Power when it doesn’t come from the True Source, but I suppose that’s like the difference between using the term “the Chosen” vs “the Forsaken.” For this guy, at least, and maybe the other Forsaken as well, the Dark One is the real power, the right power, and the Creator is bad and wrong. So they’re reclaiming the word “true,” I guess you could say.
I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that this is Ishamael in a new body. Since he seems like he’s quite knowledgeable about Sammael and Graendal, quite powerful, and quite connected to the Dark One, I think my guess is a pretty safe bet—especially since I’ve recently been reminded that the Dark One is capable of resurrecting his followers. Ishamael is probably too good of an asset not to be resurrected as well, even though he messed up in a pretty big way the last time he was alive. And I guess he must have a new name now, just like Aran’gar and Osan’gar do.
At least the guy’s smart enough to understand that the concept of Nae’blis is just a carrot for the Dark One to motivate his followers, and that a suggestion or promise to anyone that they might be Nae’blis doesn’t really mean anything.
The Great Lord delighted in setting his servants one against another, to see who was stronger. Only the strongest could stand near his glory. But today’s truth need not be tomorrow’s.
We haven’t actually seen the Dark One tell anyone point blank that they will be Nae’blis, but we did see him imply it to Demandred. I get the impression, from their last conversation at Graendal’s hideaway, that Sammael is just trying to trick Graendal. He hasn’t actually been told that he will be Nae’blis, and he hasn’t actually told her in so many words that he has that promise from the Dark One. He’s just made some allusions and let her draw the inference.
Granted, I don’t know how much difference that would make to the Dark One, lying by trickery vs. lying in plain words. But Ishamael was letting people think he was actually the Dark One for a while and he seems to have gotten away with that, so…?
I’m happy for Rand and Min that they got to comfort each other in this section. I’m sure here will be a lot of drama later as Rand feels guilty for sleeping with her and Min struggles with her own mess of emotions around loving Rand and changing for him and knowing that she has to share him with Elayne and Aviendha. But even so, there are so few moments when Rand allows himself to be comforted and cared for, and right now Min seems to be the only person he can bring himself to trust, to be even a little bit openly emotional around. After everything he’s been through in the last few chapters—never mind the entire series—I’m glad that he allowed himself just a taste of letting go. A taste of comfort. And I’m glad Min was honest with him in turn. The last thing Rand needs is more people trying to manipulate him, even if she is only doing it out of fear of rejection.
Min’s dashed hope that Rand might have changed the outcome of her viewing of Colavaere’s hanging was really sad. So much of what she views of people is death and suffering, which makes sense given the state of the world right now and the conflict to come, and that’s quite a burden to carry. Her abilities also raise a lot of existential questions about the way the world and Creation work in The Wheel of Time that I haven’t thought about in a bit. But with this reminder, I’m thinking again about free will, and how the Pattern shapes people’s lives. In fact, I think it might be time to write another essay about the subject. So for now I’ll content myself with the observation that at first Min’s viewing and Colavaere’s fate feel like an argument against the idea that the Pattern allows free will, but that when you really examine the events there is a lot more complexity there that’s really fun to turn over. Especially if you aren’t one of the people in the world who has to deal with the existential crisis of such questions—or you’re Herid Fel.
Once Rand has had some time to recover from the shock and grief of the man’s death, I wonder if he’ll come to the same conclusion that I have—that Fel had, or was getting close to, an answer to the question Rand asked him about whether or not there would be any reason to break the seals himself. It was referenced in the last note he left for Rand, the one Min still has, very soon before his death. If some darkfriend was keeping tabs on the man it’s possible that the Dark One realized that Fel was getting close to a realization that is dangerous for his plans, and wanted to silence him before Rand learned too much.
The note read: Belief and order give strength. Have to clear rubble before you can build.
I feel like the second sentence is pretty self-explanatory. Rand asked if there was any reason to break the seals early. Fel has also been telling Rand about his belief that the Bore can’t just be patched up forever, but must eventually be made whole so that eventually Time can come around full circle and the Bore can be drilled (again). Rand is skeptical of this, and even Fel can’t imagine that anyone but the Creator has the ability to remake a part of Creation in such a way, but I think it’s much more likely that Rand does have the ability to not just patch up the hole as Lews Therin did, but to actually remake the place that was drilled into. Maybe the Creator will have an indirect sort of hand in it, as he seemed to have in Rand’s early moments of channeling, but I think it’s going to be mostly Rand. This is part of who he is as a tool of the Pattern, not just a Hero capital-H, not just the Dragon, but specifically the Dragon Reborn who follows Lews Therin and inherits the end of the war begun in the Age of Legends.
The entire question of when the Last Battle comes is who can be ready for it first. Rand and the other forces of Light are desperately scrambling to be ready by the time the Dark One strikes, but it may very well be that the forces of the Dark are in the same positon. If Rand is ready, as ready as one can be, for the Last Battle before the Dark One is finished breaking free, then perhaps he has the advantage. He could break the remaining seals and force the confrontation before the Dark One can finish marshaling his own forces, and laying his own plans.
The entire point of sowing chaos is to prevent Rand from being able to unite the world against the Dark One, but he doesn’t have to be prevented indefinitely—only long enough for the Dark One to be ready for his attack. Just as Gandalf told the forces of Gondor and Edoras that the only way to defeat the forces of Mordor was to go on the offensive, to attack before Sauron was ready, so too might Rand realize that he needs to go on the attack against the Dark One. At some point he needs to stop defending and start advancing against his enemy—that is the only way to win a war.
But as clear as the second sentence feels, the one before it feels equally vague. Belief and order gives strength could mean… anything at all, really. My best guess, and assuming that these two sentences are directly related to each other, is that Fel is making a prediction about Rand’s future strength and future abilities. Rand himself knows that he needs a united world to lead into the Last Battle, and one of the greatest weaknesses of his position is how difficult it is to create that unity. And as for belief… Well, that could mean people believing in Rand, as he needs a united world that believes in him and is willing to follow him into the most horrific of circumstances.
But I kind of wonder if the belief that Fel is talking about is actually Rand’s belief in himself. Rand is doing his best to be what he believes he must be, but he is actually quite full of self doubt. Even when he is fairly confident that he is doing what needs to be done, he still hates himself for it. I’ve addressed this idea before in the read, the fact that Rand can’t seem to make a distinction in his mind between doing something morally questionable but necessary for the greater good and doing something amoral for bad reasons. This isn’t to say that he shouldn’t be troubled by, say, having to institute a harsh death penalty in Cairhien because he has to maintain order—the day a leader stops questioning his choices is the day he becomes an evil despot. But Rand has enough trauma in his life without adding his own grist to the wheel grinding down his mental health.
And if he doesn’t believe in himself, he won’t be able to reach his full potential as a channeler. So maybe what Fel is alluding to here is the idea that Rand’ potential abilities as the Dragon Reborn might far exceed what anyone can imagine, might even reach the point where he could make the Bore whole again, but to obtain that level of strength he needs order and belief, both from others and within himself.
Next week we’ll have an essay on the Pattern and free will, and then we’ll follow up with Chapters 21 and 22 of A Crown of Swords. Have a great week my friends.
Sylas K Barrett is wondering if fancloth is the same thing the Warder’s “color-shifting cloaks” are made out of.