Welcome back to Reading The Wheel of Time! I hope everyone had a good two weeks while I was away. My vacation included an allergic reaction and a flat tire on a rental car, so it wasn’t as relaxing a trip as I would have liked. But in comparison to the traveling Elayne and company are having, it was smooth as silk, so I shan’t complain!
And then there’s, well… whatever it is that Rand’s doing. Let us dive back into the read with Chapters 20 and 21 of The Path of Daggers!
Elayne, Aviendha, and Birgitte are collected by Nynaeve and Lan, who see to their injuries. Lan has to remove the heavy crossbow bolt from Birgitte’s thigh before she can be Healed, and she’s so stoic about it that Lan is impressed.
“Tai’shar Kandor,” Lan murmured, tossing the pile-head quarrel, made to punch through armor, aside on the ground. True blood of Kandor. Birgitte blinked, and he paused. “Forgive me, if I erred. I assumed from your clothes you were Kandori.”
Birgitte hastily agrees that she is, and Elayne wonders if Birgitte knows anything at all about Kandor beside the name. Nynaeve Heals everyone, and she and Lan take everyone to the manor house, where Master and Mistress Hornwell have sent all their servants as well as all of the ones that arrived with the party scurrying to make up sleeping arrangements for over two hundred unexpected guests. Despite the exhaustion of many of the women, the anger of the Windfinders at being so far from the sea, and the complaining of the noblewomen, the work gets done swiftly—mostly due to Alise’s handling of any problems. Adeleas and Vandene have taken Ispan away to a nearby woodcutter’s hut; Elayne finds she feels even more responsible for whatever is being done to Ispan now that they are in Andor.
They leave the next day, traveling towards Caemlyn, and their unusual party attracts a fair amount of attention wherever they go. Alise keeps everyone in line, even the noblewomen and some wealthy merchants and craftswomen who had been with the Kin and are starting to resent being corralled with the rest. Whenever she can, Elayne asks the people who they support for the throne and what their concerns are, and the people answer freely, as Andorans are wont to do.
She hears rumors that the Dragon Reborn killed both Morgase and Elayne herself, while others claim Elayne is alive and that the Dragon is going to put her on the throne. Most people disapprove of the Dragon Reborn, blaming him for everything bad that has happened for the last few years. All of them, whether they support House Trakand or not, see him as an invader and believe he should be driven out of Andor. It’s not encouraging for Elayne to hear.
There continues to be tension between the Windfinders, the Aes Sedai, and the Kin, though it never quite explodes. Vandene and Adeleas seem to have Ispan well under control, as she rides meekly with her head down and no longer needs to be bound, though she remains shielded. Vandene and Adeleas have not been able to learn very many useful things from her, however; all the information she has given them is outdated or about Darkfriends who are already dead. They are frustrated, and beginning to believe she may have sworn an Oath against betraying her cohorts.
Elayne continues to study the storehouse cache, finding no more angreal but quite a few ter’angreal. Studying them is slow going, and Elayne does occasionally trigger one accidentally, once causing headaches in the camp, another time blacking out and waking up later in bed, being fussed over by Nynaeve and Birgitte who won’t tell her what happened. Elayne senses amusement from Birgitte and others, later, but no one will tell her what she did or said. She resolves to only study the ter’angreal when she has more privacy.
Nine days after their flight from Ebou Dar, scattered clouds appeared in the sky and a sprinkling of fat raindrops splashed dust in the road. An intermittent drizzle fell the next day, and the day after, a deluge kept them huddled in the houses and stables of Forel Market. That night, the rain turned to sleet, and by morning, thick flurries of snow drifted from a cloud-dark sky. More than halfway to Caemlyn, Elayne began to wonder whether they could make it in two weeks from where they stood.
They have to obtain warm clothes for everyone, which they manage when Aviendha produces a sack of gemstones. When Elayne asks where they came from, Aviendha explains that she tried to buy her toh from Rand. She tells Elayne that this is the least honorable way, but she couldn’t figure out another. It didn’t work, however, and Elayne refrains from asking for more details.
Because of the change of weather, the Sea Folk decide that their side of the Bargain has been met. During the journey, Merilille had somehow ended up agreeing to be one of the first sisters to go to the Sea Folk ships, in accordance with the Bargain Elayne and Nynaeve made. Renaile demands both that the Bowl be turned over and that Merilille begin her teaching. From then on, Merilille stays with the Windfinders, almost constantly demonstrating and teaching weaves. Elayne isn’t sure what status Merilille has with them—she isn’t down to the level of the apprentices, but she is clearly expected to do as she is told. Reanne is clearly appalled at this, but other members of the Kin watch with interest how Merilille reacts to Renaile and the other high-ranking Windfinders.
Elayne begins to worry that the Kin won’t see the Aes Sedai as authorities anymore, and that they will lose interest in joining the White Tower themselves. Nynaeve, on the other hand, thinks it’s good for the Aes Sedai to get a taste of “trying to teach a woman who thinks she knows more than her teacher” and is confident that everyone who has a chance at the shawl will still want it. They agree not to tell Egwene about it; when Egwene learned about the Bargain, she went full Amyrlin Seat on them and told them that she would have issued them a penance if there had been time to do so.
They visit Salidar in Tel’aran’rhiod to leave a message for Egwene estimating their arrival in Caemlyn, and Elayne teases Nynaeve over the difficulty of having to jump and obey a woman who had once been an infant in Nynaeve’s care.
Meanwhile, in Illian, Rand is surprised how much rain and lightning storms are hampering his plans. The Asha’man he sent for arrive through a gateway, snow falling back in Andor as they step through into the rain. Their commander is Charl Gedwyn, who names himself Tsorovan’m’hael. In the Old Tongue that means Storm Leader, while his second, Manel Rochaid, is called Baijan’m’hael, Attack Leader. Rand wonders what Taim is up to, creating new ranks.
The important thing was that the man made weapons. The important thing was that the weapons stayed sane long enough to be used.
Gedwyn and Rochaid have brought eight Dedicated and forty Soldiers. When Gedwyn seizes saidin before stepping out into the rain and creating a weave to shield himself from it, Rand barely stops himself from killing him. Lews Therin mutters in his head, an almost constant presence unless Rand mutes him; sometimes, when Rand dreams, he’s Lews Therin and not himself.
Rand’s plan is to sweep the Seanchan west, and this project starts once the Asha’man arrive, albeit slowly due to the weather. Weiramon does his usual sucking up to Rand as the camp is broken down and packed up, and Rand knows that Weiramon hopes that Rand will eventually name him the King of Tear. Rand has sent different groups of his followers off in different directions, with forces mixed with retainers of various allegiances and with Defenders of the Stone—large enough forces to give the Shaido pause, but not so large as to give their leaders any ideas about going their own way.
Bringing peace to Illian was an important task, yet every last lord and lady regretted being sent away from the Dragon Reborn, plainly wondering whether it meant they had slipped in his trust. Though a few might have considered why he chose to keep those he did under his eye. Rosana had certainly looked thoughtful.
Rand makes a gateway to lead the rest to the city of Illian. Every time he seizes saidin now he has to fight the dizziness, and he sees double as well. Still, he doesn’t order one of the Asha’man to do it, not wanting to show any weakness in case of spies or giving ideas to followers of dubious loyalty. Nearly three thousand men follow him through the gateway, though they all try to keep to their own kind as much as possible. What they don’t know is that all the leaders are those Rand least trusts—those who have plotted against him or who have connections to those who stand in defiance against the Dragon Reborn. Weiramon is among them mainly because he is too stupid to be left to his own devices.
Along with the servants and carts are some of the men who followed Lord Brend, including their leader, the man who Rand first spoke to. Eagan Padros is a commoner but very smart; Rand has marked him out. They set up the new camp within sight of the city. Rand goes at once to his tent where he lies on his bed and goes over and over his plans.
Two or three more days, and the Seanchan would have been dealt a blow that knocked them on their heels. Then it was back to Cairhien to see how negotiations with the Sea Folk had gone, to learn what Cadsuane was after—he owed her a debt, but she was after something!—maybe to put a final end to what remained of the rebellion there.
He worries over that last part, and how long it will be until Elayne reaches Caemlyn; once she’s on the throne he’ll have to keep away from Caemlyn. He also worries over his plan to cleanse saidin, which could work, but could also destroy the world.
Narishma arrives, dripping wet from the storm outside since he has been traveling incognito and couldn’t do any channeling that might attract notice. He is carrying a long, cylindrical bundle.
Rand demands to know what took so long, and Narishma complains that he had to take some time to “figure out what to do” and that Rand didn’t tell him everything. He claims Rand nearly killed him.
Rand is certain he did tell Narisham everything he needed to know—after all, there was no point in putting so much risky trust in the man only to get him killed. He sends Narishma away with another warning that Rand will kill him if he tells anyone about this.
The next day they are joined by a thousand men of the Legion of the Dragon, in their blue coats with red dragons worked on the chests. These are men who helped take Illian, but Weiramon and Semaradrid express muttered disapproval for foot soldiers, and Rand knows others might disapprove of the Legion because they chose to swear specifically to follow the Dragon Reborn. No doubt everyone is wondering why Rand is taking them out of Illian without telling the Council of Nine where he is taking them.
Rand has Dashiva open the gateway this time, ignoring Dashiva’s offended reaction and the way Gedwyn and Rochaid watch Rand while the weave is being made. They emerge in some foothills, and the nobles slowly start to realize that Rand’s plan is to deal with the threat of the Seanchan. They no doubt expect him to set up a defense against a possible Seanchan attack on Illian, and Rand settles in to wait while the Asha’man search across Illian, Tear, and the Plains of Maredo for the other forces Rand wants—High Lords Sunamon and Torean; Bertome Saighan, cousin to Colavaere; and Ailil Riatin, whose cousin Toram has laid claim to the Lion Throne. More Tairen and Cairhienin lords and ladies, too, with fifty or a hundred retainers, all the people Rand least trusts.
So he gathered them in, all the folk who had been too long out from under his eye. He could not watch all of them all the time, but he could not afford to let them forget that he did watch sometimes. He gathered them, and he waited. For two days. Gnashing his teeth, he waited. Five days. Eight.
Finally Davram Bashere arrives and comes into Rand’s tent. He was told that Rand needed him at once but not to bring more than a thousand men, and so assumes that they aren’t going into battle. Rand, tired from pouring over maps, corrects the assumptions.
“If you’re going to fight a battle,” he told Bashere, “who better to pay the butcher’s bill than men who want you dead? Anyway, it isn’t soldiers who’ll win this battle. All they have to do is keep anybody from sneaking up on the Asha’man. What do you think of that?”
Bashere tells Rand it’s a deadly stew, and hopes that they aren’t the ones who will choke on it. Then he laughs, and Lews Therin laughs too.
I can see where Rand is coming from with his plan to take everyone who hates him and everyone he can’t trust (or those he trusts the least, anyway, since he trusts about six people in the whole world) into battle against the Seanchan. If he has to sacrifice lives, why not sacrifice the worst ones?
Except for the mental list of dead women, Rand has pretty much stopped bemoaning the lives he’s had to sacrifice for the cause of uniting the world before Tarmon Gai’don. Even the Aiel have basically become just another tool to him; Sorilea observes that to Rand, the Aiel are nothing more than a spear, and that you don’t mourn a spear that breaks in your hand. And of course his attitude about the Asha’man is worst of all: To him, they are weapons to be pointed and fired where he commands, and nothing more. It seems he’s basically sublimated all his regret and guilt into one bone-deep feeling of self-loathing, which works rather well with the fact that he’s decided he’s destined to die. It’s not a good feeling, but there’s a certain amount of comfort in resignation. Rand can just tell himself that he was made to be a weapon, a necessary evil, and a sacrifice, which allows him to stop spending so much energy struggling with the pain of his decisions.
I feel like the death of Colavaere was one of the things that pushed Rand over the edge into this complacency with death and being hard. He did so much to try to avoid executing her, even though it meant breaking the rules he set down in Cairhien, and in the end all that mental effort meant nothing. The fact that Rand sees little difference in how he is the cause of a woman’s death is probably at least in part because of Lews Therin’s influence, but it’s clear that he doesn’t make much of a distinction. A woman killed at his hand, or a woman who commits suicide because she is unable to face the consequences of her own actions, or a woman who attacks him in battle and dies at the hands of his allies—it’s all the same to Rand, it seems. And once those distinctions are lost, how long until other distinctions go to?
Rand still doesn’t like killing and death, of course, and is still doing his best to avoid it when he can. But we can see an erosion in his will even there. The taint and Lews Therin are driving him towards a desire to kill other male channelers, for one. And he has a more callous idea about the death of people he doesn’t like, which is why he seems to take pride in his strategy of leading mostly enemies against the Seanchan. At one point in Chapter 21 he even finds himself wishing that Weiramon would do something stupid enough to get himself executed. The word “almost” is in that sentence, but it doesn’t do much heavy lifting, in my opinion.
So Rand’s decision makes sense from the point of view of protecting his allies as much as possible and risking the lives of people he needs to keep an eye on instead. (Rand always tries to check in with the dangerous people to keep them from getting too comfortable in his absence.) It’s a bit morally questionable, but it’s not quite a desire for them to actually be killed, either.
The place where it makes less logical sense is the place that Bashere recognizes: Rand is about to go into battle against a dangerous enemy with very few people he can actually trust to watch his back. And I have a feeling that Rand is highly and severely overconfident about how easy it’s going to be to rebuff the Seanchan. Which is kind of ironic considering how he’s been carefully carrying the Dragon Scepter to remind himself not to forget them.
I’m not sure if Rand is underestimating the Seanchan because of how Falme shook out. Surely he would have considered that the Seanchan are more prepared now that they’ve taken several nations, have much greater numbers on the ground, and have experience fighting in the Westlands. Also I’m pretty sure Rand knows about the raken and to’raken, but how much does he actually know about them, really? He’s probably better prepared for the damane and sul’dam, but he also hates killing women so… not sure what he’s planning on doing about that, especially since the damane are slaves who don’t actually have a choice as to whether or not they fight him and his Asha’man.
But the Asha’man are the main reason Rand is so confident. He thinks—as do the Asha’man themselves—that the Black Tower-trained men are invincible. They are very powerful in ways nobody, not the Aes Sedai or the Aiel and or the Seanchan, are prepared for. But that doesn’t mean that they are invincible or invulnerable, just as Rand himself isn’t. He’s been recently reminded of his own vulnerability after his near brush with death—although there’s a big difference between the Shadar Logoth dagger and a Seanchan arrow, I suppose.
He’s probably right that the Seanchan aren’t going to be able to win out against Rand’s Asha’man, but I think they’re going to be stronger and more resourceful than Rand thinks. And I suspect also that having a bunch of enemies at his back while he faces the Seanchan is going to prove more dangerous than Rand realizes.
Taim also is going to prove dangerous in ways Rand doesn’t seem to be worried about. He’s confused by the new ranks Taim is coming up with, and I can see why he doesn’t like it. I myself am pretty suspicious that Taim might turn out to be an enemy of Rand’s, probably by being a Darkfriend, but also possibly just by wanting power and prestige so much that he goes off the rails some other way. However, I also do think that Taim probably has a point in creating military ranks and titles for the Asha’man. Rand just wants them to be weapons, like guns that he can point and shoot, but they do need to be able to organize themselves in battle. I mean, at the very least there are too many of them for Rand to direct each individually during Tarmon Gai’don. Never mind the fact that I bet a lot of them are strong and intelligent men who could be useful to Rand in other ways besides being able to channel how he wants.
Rand’s arrogance is definitely growing as the series progresses, but it’s really notable how much of it is born out of fear and pain. He’s afraid to tell people his plans and invite them into his confidence for fear of spies and betrayers. Then that pain becomes anger, an anger that takes on a tinge of superiority, and then more than a tinge.
The Asha’man have their own attitudes of superiority, learned from Taim or from Rand or just from being who and what they are. I imagine knowing that they will one day succumb to the madness of the taint contributes to this attitude, just as Rand’s knowledge of his inevitable (he seems to think) death at Shayol Ghul contributes to his. They display this attitude even towards Rand, probably for the same reason Taim does. But there are also those, like Flinn and Narishma, who clearly respect Rand and are loyal to him. Which is why Narishma’s reaction to Rand in this chapter feels particularly significant to me.
I’m guessing that Rand sent Narishma to fetch Callandor, and that’s what’s in the bundle. Narishma says that Rand didn’t give him all the information he needed; Rand left inverted weaves and traps for anyone who tried to take Callandor, and I’m guessing he told Narishma about them but didn’t give complete enough instructions. Maybe Rand forgot about part of a weave or trap, or maybe he didn’t describe them quite accurately enough for some other reason. It’s all very new for both men, after all—the Asha’man are all making up new language for channeling and weaves as they go. Still, it’s telling that Rand doesn’t even consider that Narishma might be right, that Rand might have gotten it wrong accidentally. And even though he sent Narishma on this errand because he trusted Narishma the most, his reaction to having the errand successfully and loyally completed is to doubt Narishma further, and to threaten to kill him again. And in reaction, he gets this;
Narishma struck himself hard on the chest with his fist. “As you command, my Lord Dragon,” he said sourly.
Rand is so focused on the reasons people aren’t trustworthy that he’s treating the few trustworthy, reliable people the same way he treats those he knows are plotting against him. This paranoia is born out of having a lot of enemies and no idea how to identify most of them, and no doubt heightened by the taint. But I don’t think he realizes that threats and intimidation won’t keep people loyal if they’re there for other reasons than fear. It will do the opposite, in fact—and he’s in danger of losing the few true friends he has if he keeps this behavior up.
There’s an interesting contrast between Rand deliberately setting all his followers up into groups that can only work so well together while Elayne’s desperately wishing she could make all the disparate groups she’s dealing with get along smoothly.
It’s funny, too, because when I was reading Egwene’s last few chapters I was cross with myself for not guessing the effect that using the bowls would have on the Aes Sedai’s journey to Tar Valon—and on everyone else’s journeys, in fact. I kind of thought that using the Bowl would just make rain, and I didn’t realize that it would actually course correct the seasons back towards the winter it was supposed to be.
This is a good thing, of course, in the long run. But because of the endless summer, no one was prepared for a harsh winter the way they normally would have been. Obviously the endless heat and drought was killing off a lot of the plant life, including crops, but how much of a harvest did people get without the colder weather of autumn to cap the end of the growing season? How much did the world lose, food-wise, even before the drought really took hold?
I don’t know enough about farming to answer that question, but I bet it was a fair amount.
Anyway, I was interested in Elayne’s worries over the undermining of Aes Sedai authority in the eyes of the Kin, especially after my essay last week. It’s been a slow progression, over the last few books, of different groups who used to be almost reverent towards the Aes Sedai losing faith in/respect for them—including the reader, I think. The Aiel are the most obvious example of this, and for a while it has seemed like the Wise Ones hated and despised every single Aes Sedai. But Sorilea’s conversation with Cadsuane makes me think that this is too simplistic of a reading of the Wise Ones’ attitude towards sisters. If those Aes Sedai who swore to Rand are able to successfully complete their apprenticeships and become Wise Ones, they will probably be viewed with respect and affection by the other Wise Ones. They’ll have earned their place, just as Egwene earned their respect and friendship and would have been able to become a Wise One as well, if she’d been able to stay long enough.
Of course, these sisters are only a small percentage of Aes Sedai, but having a sister who is both a Wise One and an Aes Sedai could have some interesting and unanticipated effects on the White Tower’s relationship with other channelers. It’s too early to say how things will go with the Windfinders, but sisters may be able to earn a good deal of respect, and maybe even some temporary authority (for as long as they are on the ships) among the Sea Folk. The Sea Folk seem at the moment to be getting more out of the deal than the Aes Sedai, but there could be unexpected benefits to the Aes Sedai, and indeed, to both sides.
Nynaeve thinks that it is good for the Kin to see the Aes Sedai as humans, rather than as the “other flesh” that they present themselves as, and I think she’s probably right. Part of the change that is wracking the world right now is an upheaval in the places of power and authority, and the Aes Sedai will probably lose a lot—but again, they may gain as well. In the long run, they could achieve more connection with others, more respect that is gained by association and trust, rather than begrudgingly given in fear. That’s a long game, though, so it might be a while before we see it.
I’m so curious to see how Elayne’s ascension to the Lion Throne will go, now that we have a better picture of how the Andorans think about it. I hadn’t quite understood that even people who support Elayne don’t think Rand should have any part in putting her on the throne. For Andor, the Lion Throne is to be fought for and earned by the Queen herself, not given as a gift or surrendered as a right. That’s what Elayne said when she first heard about Rand’s plan, but I didn’t quite understand how that was about more than her own pride and faith in her own abilities. This is about what the throne of Andor means to its people.
Pride is a funny thing, isn’t it? The Aes Sedai’s is being taken down a peg or six, Rand’s is getting out of control, and Elayne is looking for a middle ground, both for herself but also for the people around her, both her (future) subjects and the group of women who have been thrown together by the Seanchan attack on Ebou Dar.
Rand doesn’t think that anyone has died for his pride. And I have to wonder, is he right about that? And will he continue to be?
Next week will be three more chapters (oh yeah, Sylas swinging for the fences) as we see if my predictions about Rand’s encounter with the Seanchan are correct. It’ll be Chapters 22–24! In the meantime, I leave you with some final thoughts.
- Growing up with Lini as your caretaker sounds like it would be really annoying. Nobody needs that many folksy sayings. Just use plain words sometimes, woman, I’m begging you.
- I love this exchange between Aviendha and Elayne, because it inverts the stereotypes of men and women.
“Why is it, when you reason things out logically, a man always does something completely illogical and gains the upper hand?”
“Their pretty heads are so fuzzy, a woman can’t expect to follow how they skitter,” Elayne told her.
- And finally, I also loved the exchange between Birgitte and Lan. Because Birgitte is so cool, and I love her. But also because Lan is daddy, and everytime he’s proud of someone I get a little contact high like he’s proud of me.
Seriously, everyone’s worried about Lan and I’m sure they’re right to be, but I’ve noticed that his sense of humor and his respect for other people’s strenght have survived his depression in tact. He laughs kind of a lot for a man who’s waiting to die, and it’s not always at dark humor.