Saturday, April 11, 2015

Towers of Midnight Read-through #62: Chapter 55 - The One Left Behind


By Linda

The hellish imagery intensifies in this chapter: the air smells of smoke and sulphur (fire and brimstone), there is steam in the corners of the rooms, smoke from blood and smoke from the fireworks blasts. The steam shies back from the sparks of flame as though it fears the light.

Mat angrily refers to the Aelfinn as a “nest of vipers”. Besides being venomous, vipers were regarded as outcasts from god, treasonous and treacherous.

Thom is despairing that they can’t win the game even if they cheat. This spurs Noal to bravely sacrifice himself. As he says, the place—an Underworld as much as an Otherworld—demands a price. Mat’s eye paid for Moiraine, and Noal’s life buys their escape. Which means that the Eelfinn will have Noal’s memories.

At which point Mat despairs. He curses the Finns (which is pretty powerful, because he is an analogue of the King of the Underworld, or King of the Dead), then becomes defiant as hope dies. In a way, Mat has fully embraced the role, since he now thinks dying with honour is worthwhile. He is more idealistic than he once was, just as Perrin is now ready to use anybody to win the Last Battle. They are both mentally prepared for Tarmon Gaidon.

The men carry Moiraine, who stirs just as they see that the Tairen redstone doorway has been smashed (by Moridin?) and then wakes because she hears Thom’s voice. In keeping with her Sleeping Beauty role in the Tower of Ghenjei, she does not try to channel or give advice in the crisis; she is passive. Which is quite atypical of her. Mind you, channelling could be dangerous in this world since it has different laws:

Robert Jordan: When Moiraine and Lanfear went through the ter'angreal, it burned in part because both were channeling, and the world on the other side of the doorway has a radically different set of natural laws. The odd optical effects witnessed in that other world are not artificially produced artifacts.

In this scene there are many references to the myth of Orpheus in the Underworld, including when Mat hesitated, looking back, at Noal after he admits to being Jain Farstrider.

Moiraine would be Orpheus' beloved Eurydice, one of the daughters of the solar god Apollo, who drove the chariot of the sun. When out walking, she was attacked by a satyr and fell into a nest of vipers, where she received a fatal bite. Orpheus grieved for Eurydice and played such mournful songs that even the gods wept. On their advice, he travelled to the underworld to see if his music would soften the hearts of Hades and Persephone. It did so (the only time they relented) and they allowed her to return to the land of the living with him on condition that he walk in front of her and not look back until they both reached the upper world. But the moment he arrived above ground he did look back and she vanished forever.

Mat refers to the “nest of vipers” that are the Aelfinn. Moiraine was a princess of the Sun Throne who fell through to the underworld of the *Finns—the foxes, though, rather than the snakes, though both are treacherous, and so fit the symbolism--taking Lanfear, another viper, with her. Thom plays as Orpheus did—whispers of tomorrow, of another day of life—a dirge played for Moiraine because the rescue has failed. However, the King of the Dead, Mat, is with them, and was able to effect their escape. After looking back at the doomed Noal, Mat also “looks back” through his memories and realises that the ashandarei was given as a way out--in such a way that he would not know what it was for.

In this scene Mat relied on thought as well as memory. His memories don’t fade--quite the reverse, he’s keeping alive the memories of those long dead. Thought is the arrow of time—crosses times, negates the effect of time.

The hole Mat cuts in the Tower appears to heal up though, after. It is more a portal than a hole. Mat crows defiantly to the *Finns that he won their game and that they gave him the key. Note that the *Finns hadn’t cheated, neither this time nor the previous times.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Towers of Midnight Read-through #61: Chapter 54 - The Light of the World


By Linda

Mat resolves not to get hanged this time when he makes a bargain with the Eelfinn. On his previous visit, he was ignorant, but this time he will be clever enough to avoid their traps and not leave any loopholes—or so he believes. Instead of being sneaky, Mat challenges the Eelfinn openly:

"You knew I'd come back," Mat said loudly. His voice did not echo. Light! How large was the thing? "You knew I'd come marching back to your bloody realm, didn't you? You knew you'd have me eventually." Hesitant, Thom lowered his flute. "Show yourselves!" Mat said. "I can hear you scrambling, hear you breathing."

Towers of Midnight, The Light of the World

He believes that the Eelfinn manipulated him into returning to be killed. When he points out to Thom that they know things, he is implying that they know the future. We know the Aelfinn can read the Pattern of the main world but we don’t know if the Eelfinn can. Furthermore, it’s not that simple: the future is not all foreordained, as Moiraine’s trip through the rings in Rhuidean showed. It is far from certain that the rescue will be successful, although Thom has faith in Moiraine’s vision of their escape.

Mat feels played with—Toy toyed with—but he is good at winning games. The Eelfinn try to get him to make a bargain prior to arriving in the bargaining chamber. However, each visitor may only have one chance to make a bargain, and bargains aren’t binding unless made in the Chamber of Bonds. So Mat refuses and fends off the Eelfinn with their forbidden items. The Foxes claim Mat is purposely antagonising them when they did nothing to deserve it. He has the scar to prove they hanged him last time – when bound by a treaty no less. Since he came so close to death, being resuscitated by Rand, this also indicates they weren’t certain he would be back.

In return, they challenge him, with a senior Eelfinn saying:

"We are the near ancient, the warriors of final regret, the knowers of secrets."

Towers of Midnight, The Light of the World

The Eelfinn hang out in the shadows like bogey men – or Myrddraal. They are meant to seem hellish in their own way. The white steam is a reference to the heat of hell, but also to “smoke and mirrors”. For instance, Mat’s spear blade passes through an Eelfinn “as if it were smoke”. Again, like Myrddraal, they are out of phase with the regular laws of physics. The blade is not iron so it can’t harm them; the iron knife and band hurt them. The Eelfinn’s blood steams and has faces in it –a distraction and a threat:

He shivered as he saw the Eelfinn's blood on the ground begin to steam. White steam, as in the other chambers, but this had shapes in it. They looked like twisted faces, appearing briefly and yelling before vanishing. Burn them! He couldn't get distracted.

Towers of Midnight, The Light of the World

It reminds me of Moridin’s fireplace:

Rand turned back to the flames, watching them twist and flicker. They formed shapes, like the clouds, but these were headless bodies, skeletal, backs arching in pain, writhing for a moment in fire, spasming, before flashing into nothing.

The Gathering Storm, A Place to Begin

Noal thinks the Eelfinn control the darkness and their yellow light creates illusion. He thinks it’s all illusion, a trick, but the Eelfinn do have genuine abilities. Mat likens the Eelfinn to Aes Sedai because both are liars and cheats that have to be “honest”, are in fact bound to be. They cannot lie, but they can trickBoth groups have parallels in elfin or fairy folk as discussed in the previous read-through article. As Mat warns Thom and Noal, the Eelfinn are tricksters (see Tricksters article), but so are Mat, Thom and Noal for that matter. Mat is chronically “unreliable” unless he makes a promise. He always keeps those.

Light blinds the Foxes – as Mat the fox was a light-blinded fool (see Fool and Joker article) in the early books. While the Eelfinn are dazzled, Mat is enlightened and realises the Eelfinn have been manipulating him to make certain choices – pick a certain card:

Never choose the card a man wants you to. Mat should have realized that. It was one of the oldest cons in creation.

Towers of Midnight, The Light of the World

Moiraine is discovered clothed in mist, a continuation of the mist/fog/steam/smoke motifs, which symbolise the danger of being misled and not seeing clearly. She is a Sleeping Beauty figure, having taken herself out of the main action in response to a warning and to fulfil prophecy. This is more empowered than the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty who was kept protected yet succumbed to her doom anyway, although both women awaited rescue.

Mat hates the way Moiraine disrupted his life, and used him, yet he prefers this life to his former one. She did what needed to be done to save the three ta’veren. Finally he understands her and is grateful for what she did—but still angry that she had to. Mat’s internal reconciliation to Moiraine looks to Rand’s emotional reaction when she arrives at the crucial moment and is restored to him as the only woman of many who died that has returned to him.

The scene fulfils Egwene’s dream of:

Mat throwing dice with blood streaming down his face, the wide brim of his hat pulled down low so she could not see his wound, while Thom Merrilin put his hand into a fire to draw out the small blue stone that now dangled on Moiraine’s forehead.

The Fires Of Heaven, What Can Be Learned in Dreams

The dream shows the dangers: Thom endures pain as he literally puts his hands into hot mist (steam vapour?) to free Moiraine, Mat has a facial wound hidden by his hat, (in fact he pulls his hat down to shade his eye as Egwene saw in dream) but he still rolls his dice to find their way. I.e. He is relying on his luck while bravely playing the game against the Finns. The kesiera is something personal of Moiraine’s and is therefore symbolic of her. Noal does not appear in the dream as though he is already dead.

Mat’s sacrifice of an eye is one of his many links with the Norse god Odin. The dice refer to the game of Foxes and Snakes and that they need to use an understanding of this game, and Mat’s luck, to effect a rescue. It is interesting that Mat rolled dice to determine their “moves” in this scene.

Moiraine was left bound/restrained in the Chamber of Bonds to be bargained for. Hence the Eelfinn say :

"The bargain has been arranged," one of the Eelfinn males said, smiling, showing pointed teeth.
The other Eelfinn leaned in, breathing deeply, as if smelling something. Or ... as if drawing something from Mat and the others. Birgitte had said that they fed off emotion.
"What bargain?" Mat snapped, glancing around at the pedestals. "Burn you, what bargain?"
"A price must be paid," one said.
"The demands must be met," said another.
"A sacrifice must be given."

Towers of Midnight, The Light of the World

The price that must be paid is Mat’s eye, as he was warned beforehand. Yet, what if he had not asked the Aelfinn the question: “What fate?” Would he have accepted their bargain price if he was not forewarned? Was the price effectively set because he asked?

The Eelfinn feed off red and white vapour—more “smoke”—from Mat and become drunk from it. The declaration “I can taste fate itself” suggests they are sensitive to the Pattern, at least, if not as good at reading it as the Aelfinn.

The world depends on the payment of an eye for Moiraine; the trickster is a hero. Mat professes a low opinion of those prepared to be heroic and exclaims: “Burn me for a fool! “, a fool being a more typical role for a trickster. Mat has played the fool figure many times (see Fool and Joker essay).

The demands that must be met were Mat’s list: the way out restored and open until they go through, a direct way, with no attacks by the Foxes. The Eelfinn frown – and Mat thinks it’s because they don’t like the bargain. He gets cocky and thinks he got better of them, but they were concentrating on twisting the bargain. They summon the Aelfinn to attack them.

The sacrifice that must be given is Noal’s life. The Foxes’ intended sacrifice was to be their lives, all four of them, but they get one. Basically, they exchanged Moiraine for Noal. In folk tales, fairies may demand a life for a life. Many myths and legends in underworlds and otherworlds set a condition that if someone is to go, another must be left in their place. In this case, left to die.

Mat realises that Thom is loving toward Moiraine, but not yet the full depth of their relationship. Thom rescued her for love, not duty.

The room with the melted ter’angreal is at the end of the Eelfinn’s realm. Beyond is the Snakes’ realm. The Eelfinn made the way out go through the Aelfinn’s territory so they can attack.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Towers of Midnight Read-through #60: Chapter 53 - Gateways


By Linda

Pevara POV

Taim has made a Dark School, or Devil’s school, where the hindmost are beaten for mistakes, and the Devil is shortly to take any channeller. The Tower, too, became a Dark School once Mesaana ensconced herself there and brought Elaida and the Hall under her influence.

Pevara reports that the Ash’man are mocking Aes Sedai by overdoing deference and pandering to them. Rand overdid courtesy to Tuon in A Memory of Light. She did not feel mocked but did feel she had been lowered, rather than acknowledged as higher, in status.

Taim is trying to play the rebel embassy against the Reds, by pressuring the Reds to contact the rebels, to ensure the two groups stay apart. If they did join together, there would be more than 13 of them, and they would be able to form two or three rings of six or more, and be a threat to the Asha’man—but they competing and unlikely to cooperate. Pevara should have called Taim’s bluff and accepted his offer to invite the rebels to join them. Though that, too, would have its risks.

In the meantime, Javindhra has cleverly manipulated Pevara. Her contrariness is a ploy; I suspect she is Black Ajah. Pevara realises the danger they are in and wants to bond a few Dedicated and leave. Javindhra’s original negative attitude toward going to the Black Tower, and Bonding Asha’man may represent her true feelings or she may have been ordered to stop the expedition. I suspect the former. It would suit the Shadow to gain some Turned channellers and for influential Reds to be “lost” to the Aes Sedai. Therefore I expect that once the Supreme Council and Mesaana knew about the Reds’ plan, Javindhra was ordered to participate. Very probably she is under orders to stay at the Black Tower herself, no matter what the other Reds do. But if she can stall for time and keep the others undecided, so much the better. To achieve this, she makes herself look foolishly stubborn.

Pevara should remind Javindhra of their duty to return to the Tower, and see what excuse she makes. They should return—they have been given up on and new Sitters raised in their place. When people do things against their natural inclination or what they have said previously, the Shadow is usually involved. Pevara respects Javindhra’s rights as a Sitter and doesn’t pull rank as expedition leader. Previously, she assumed Javindhra would follow custom and law but now realises too late that she may not. Like any good leader, Pevara feels responsible for all the group members, and sees madness in some of the Asha’man, so she feels she must try once more to get Javindhra to leave.

She disapproves of the Bonded Aes Sedai trying to manipulate their Asha’man through sex. At first the women felt justified because they were Bonded against their will. Soon they feel something else; the Bond is a two-way street.

Tarna is now behaving as off-hand and contrary as Javindhra. She has the dead eyes of a Turned channeller. It is immediately obvious to anyone who knows her that something is wrong. This is not the case with Javindhra, whose appearance has not changed and who therefore has not been Turned. She is aiding the Shadow of her own accord – following orders – and is just a Black Sister. Javindhra’s delaying tactics were successful: the Myrddraal have come. Violation of a person’s spirit, will and ethics by enforced apostasy is a huge Wrongness and the Land will react to it.

Pevara feels vulnerable due to being tied to the Three Oaths; without the belief that Asha’man are Darkfriends she has to fear for her life to strike back. More vulnerability follows: gateways won’t open. The Dreamspike is in place. She has left it too late and should have cut her losses days earlier and taken those who would go. The stalling has worked.


Perrin POV

Perrin’s leg feels like it remembers being injured in Tel’aran’rhiod. Perhaps this is because Healing of injuries gained there often leaves a scar, as Verin and Nynaeve showed. It is a reflection of the frequent depiction of blacksmith gods as lame (see Perrin article).

Faile avoids Mat because she disapproves of him and his “disreputable” influence. In the last scene, he encouraged Perrin to stay at the inn late.

There is a hint that something is a little odd about Aravine not returning to her estates in Amadicia. The Seanchan would likely respect her claim to them, being keen on the law, and the risk that she might be able to channel is small.

Perrin believes Rand should make the Seal on the Dark One’s prison anew, breaking the old cuendillar focal points. He didn’t tell Egwene this; just that he will be there at Merrilor. He intends to keep the armies and people from fighting each other, and is more unifying than Egwene, and more open to Rand’s ideas. Having finally accepted leadership, Perrin is taking the time to check all his troops out and return their salute. He wonders how they could sense he resented leadership since they can’t smell emotions. However, they can read body language, listen to the tone of his voice and for what is not said as well as what is said.

Like the wolves Perrin can feel the Last Battle. He is prepared to make anybody fight to prevent the Shadow winning.

This POV is a small, positive interlude between two increasingly dark and dangerous threads.


Mat POV

Thom feels he should wear gleeman’s clothes to rescue Moiraine; they symbolise the quest for him and, of course, how they met. He looks more humble and more “foolish” or carnivalesque in them, just as Noal is wearing a frock coat like a circus master or showman. Mat is in non-descript clothing typical of the Two Rivers, where he started his trickster career as a prankster. Throughout the series, Mat is either over-dressed or quite down at heel; making a spectacle of himself to put one over others. This emphasises that all three men are tricksters and that is why they are the only ones who can go on this quest. It takes three tricksters to beat the *Finns. Whatever is done three times is more potent, more true (see Number Symbolism article).

The joke is on them that they made the opening sign too small, the first time. The triangle is the actual doorway. The men are aware that the game can’t be won. Mat’s luck must change the odds in this rigged game – as it did in Tear with Comar’s weighted dice.

The Tower of Ghenjei’s reception room is black with white steam and the smell of sulphur, or brimstone. The steam and the *Finns are both repelled by fire/light. This Otherworld is an underworld. It’s infernal or hellish, but different to the foxes’ lair or the snakes’ burrow. Perhaps it is neutral territory?

Mat remembers how the rooms and corridors shifted to confuse him during his Rhuidean visit to the *Finns’ world. He holds a grudge against the Foxes because they didn’t answer his questions – yet that’s not their bargain. They bestow “gifts”. He also claims the Snakes’ answers were not useful, but he has been using them.

The Eelfinn have malicious faery-like laughter, but they are also like imps, minions of the devil. Both faery folk and imps are tricky. Their pointed ears are like those of foxes (another tricky and untrustworthy creature (see Animal Symbolism article) and elves, elfin folk, as their name Eelfinn indicates. The *Finns are not agents of Shai’tan, but are alien to all. Jordan has combine multiple sources to create the ultimate otherworld trickster, which Mat must out-trick (see Tricksters article).

A Fox tries seducing or hypnotising them. He suggests a one-sided bargain where they leave their fire, and he will take them half-way to the bargaining chamber. Their music dispels his glamour, exposing his bargain as the worthless, even dangerous, thing that it is, and seduces him in turn. This makes Mat accept that Foxes grant requests rather than answer questions. When he visited the Eelfinn from the Waste, he was the butt of the joke in trying to make the wrong sort of bargain with them.

Mat recognises that the *Finns have consistent rules but not ones that make sense to people from another world. They reach where he entered from the Rhuidean doorway ter’angreal, and confirm that this exit is lost to them. He rolls a one, and then three nines. The latter three tosses of the dice appear to require them re-tracing their steps. Three times makes true, again, and tests their resolve.

The Eelfinn claim they are innocent and don’t deserve to have their rules violated. Such disingenuousness is a typical con or bargaining ploy.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Towers of Midnight Read-through #59: Chapter 52 - Boots


By Linda

Elayne POV

Events in this chapter are contemporaneous with Rand’s meeting with the Borderlanders: Elayne feels him meeting them after he was tested, and Mat sees him in a tent talking to some people. So the arrival at the Field of Merrilor is the next day.

Elayne feels the responsibility of having security people – of endangering others to be protected:

With Birgitte on one side of her and Guybon on the other—and with both of their horses taller than Elayne's—a would-be assassin would have great difficulty picking her off without first hitting her friends. So it would be for the rest of her life.

Towers of Midnight Boots

This highlights the risks of being a ruler, and becoming a marked person; she will be depending on guards while she holds a throne.

Elayne is affected by Birgitte’s emotions:

Birgitte’s anxiety was contagious, and Elayne found herself holding her reins in a tight grip as Glimmer moved forward.

Towers of Midnight Boots

Fear is contagious anyway, but a Warder bond between two women lacks distance due to similarities in psychology. It is an ‘unbalanced’ bond in Jordan’s philosophy, in contrast to the male-female bond.

Elayne feels Cairhien is not that hostile to her because the people want stability and prosperity. They need a ruler to look after them, and, in turn, Elayne feels the urge to do so, and especially to limit the Game of Houses. However, if not for the Great Game, Elayne would not have gained the Cairhien throne without force of arms or Rand stepping in. Lorstrum and Bertome promoted her to increase their own prospects:

Lorstrum nodded to her with respect. He knew she was manipulating him, but he also accepted that manipulation. She would have to keep a careful watch on him in the years to come.

Towers of Midnight Boots

Elayne assesses him as a worthy rival and is aware that he isn’t putting up with her manoeuvres for nothing – and won’t indefinitely. He is allowing the manipulation in the hope of fulfilling his ambition to gain a throne, or two.

Sashalle openly hands over Cairhien to her on Rand’s behalf in ceremony that leaves Elayne peeved. The new queen is sceptical that one Aes Sedai’s proclamation would work, but she may be underestimating the caretaking that the Aes Sedai in Cairhien have done. On the other hand, Elayne thinks that the nobles’ support might be enough on its own. (I don’t think it’s a case of either/or but that she needed both to support her.) Sashalle’s adopted position might be due to Verin’s Compulsion, which worked on non-channellers as well as channellers. Once Healed, the Red was fervent in swearing to support Rand.

Elayne thought Brigitte’s security checks excessive, but she was wrong. Many other Aes Sedai would be more cautious. Perhaps the assassin tried their luck anyway, since it would discredit Lorstrum, at the least. Or perhaps they know Elayne’s boldness (ie recklessness); the very characteristic Birgitte chided Elayne for at the start of the scene.

The attempt to assassinate Elayne is also a strike at Lorstrum, and maybe Bertome, although Bertome would gain if Lorstrum was blamed. The poisoned needle had the potential to neutralise both Elayne and Lorstrum in one hit.

Elayne is reading the Cairhienin well. Lorstrum owes her for not holding him responsible and he acknowledges this tacitly. I guess this delays Lorstrum’s future threat a little. Elayne uses honey with the Cairhienin—reminding them she is half Cairhienin—and also a stick—threatening them with Rand.

Immediately, she orders the nobles to gather their forces and recruit. It stops them scheming and gets them in the habit of obeying her. And tomorrow is not just another day.


Mat POV

Mat has changed his black scarf for a red – the god of war is rising as he goes to the Tower of Ghenjei.

He feels at peace, but is disgruntled at having to do paperwork. However, he likes the intelligence reports he wheedled out of Elayne. They include tales of wrongness, which he tends to dismiss, as well as false rumour and accurate reports. He is also making plans for crossbow modifications, following up on his conversation with Aludra in Knife of Dreams on improving crossbow arming speed.

The incongruity of quality furniture on bare ground outside a tent is typical of a trickster. Setalle tells Mat she knows he often says things to sock people, putting them off balance to make them do what he wants or allow him to do what he wants. It’s a tactic of tricksters. Fellow trickster Verin did something similar with her prattling hints. Mat claims to be unaware of this – perhaps he does it without thinking or perhaps he doesn’t need to think about it. There is quite a gap in perception in this conversation, in a way. Mat lets Setalle know his negative opinion of Aes Sedai, including Joline, and how they appear from a commoner’s perspective. That doesn’t shock her, but it does annoy her. His point is valid, though.

Despite the gap, there’s a meeting of minds: Mat asks Setalle a personal question about what it is like to be burned out /stilled. She uses a simile to explain. Then she returns the favour by asking him why he dislikes Aes Sedai. Because they boss him around. She says that he has the choice to follow their advice or not, and that they give good advice. Mat is not interested in good advice or the right way—tricksters rarely are. He wants freedom. And choice.

Setalle presses further to ask why Mat doesn’t like nobles. It’s not dislike, he says, just that he doesn’t want to be one. To her surprise, he uses a metaphor of boots: Talmanes, for instance, has too many pairs. Some are just for appearances. Nobles are too rich, have too much time, and lead an overly complicated life, in Mat’s opinion. Three pairs of boots—one for mess, one for most occasions and a really good pair for when you need to walk far—are sufficient.

Lie all tricksters, Mat is underestimated, but he sees what’s important and essential. It is not necessary for the aristocracy to complicate their clothing because they have a responsible position and have to make complex decisions. Setalle is impressed with his insight – though to her it is unconventional. Mat likes being unconventional. He considerately doesn’t drink straight from the jug until she leaves.

Mat tells Setalle indirectly that he’s keeping her there to see to Olver if he doesn’t escape the *Finns.

Verin the trickster is an undercurrent in this scene: Mat is tempted by her letter, but resists. He feels the surest way to resist is to decide never to open it. This follows immediately upon being reminded how bossy Aes Sedai are. It’s as if the Pattern were keeping him from succumbing to the temptation of the letter. Verin used him to do a task, or tried to, but was counting on successfully manipulating him via his curiosity. It didn’t work. His dislike of orders and work was stronger. Burning the letter unopened would be a more certain way of not reading it, but he doesn’t think of it: the Pattern needs someone else to open it.

Mat is alarmed that Birgitte was in the Tower of Ghenjei two months and couldn’t escape. And everyone broke the rules, yet most perished. Mat is not the only rule-breaker around. It is extreme luck that breaks many at once.

Probably the best part of this chapter was the triumph of the rule breakers over the ‘rule-setters’ (as Mat thinks of them): Birgitte rewarding herself for saving Elayne by sitting on the throne first, and Mat tweaking the nose of Setalle, former Aes Sedai.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Towers of Midnight Read-through #58: Chapter 51 - A Testing


By Linda

It's interesting that this chapter is titled 'A Testing', not 'The Testing'-just one of many, as Cadsuane warned Rand would happen. Siuan also warned Egwene that she would be continually tested.

Min POV

Callandor shimmers even while it is still – like the glass columns ter’angreal do when active. It feels warm and alive – again like the glass columns—when held by a non-channeller. Perhaps this was due to the presence male channellers.

Rand feels that Hawkwing’s sword Justice represents the past—Hawkwing manipulated by Ishamael—and Callandor the future – how to survive by trapping Moridin and using him to defeat the Dark One.

Min sees Callandor gripped in a black hand. I immediately thought that this represented Moridin or Shaidar Haran. She worries that Callandor will be used against Rand, but he accepts it. He’s more concerned about the Black Tower, and has tried Travelling there, but even with his current strength and abilities he couldn’t get through. From Lews Therin’s memories, he may suspect a dreamspike is in operation and therefore a Forsaken is behind it. While Rand appears open, there is still much he doesn’t say, or only half explains, in this sequence. Naeff is to tell Logain’s faction that they are not weapons, but men, and to gather information on what is going on. Rand appears to realise there are two factions, and that Taim’s men are not receptive to him, and represent a huge danger.

Cadsuane doesn’t want Callandor seen and Rand obligingly puts it away. After agreeing to Cadsuane’s suggestions, Rand shows her that he knows more about her ter’angreal than she does due to firsthand experience as Lews Therin. The ter’angreal he doesn’t recognise are probably the ones against men channelling. He lets her and everyone know that he has “ancestral memories” – and gently intimidates Cadsuane to stop patronising him. He also says that age is not necessarily proportional to wisdom and refers to himself as much as to her, which can be taken either way. He is a young man who has gained a lot of wisdom, and an old soul who has been unwise at times.

Far Madding always was anti-technology due to fearing what it could do. Lews Therin found this frustrating, but Rand sympathises with their attitude:

"The Guardians are newer, but the city was here long ago. Aren Deshar, Aren Mador, Far Madding. Always a thorn in our side, Aren Deshar was. The enclave of the Incastar-those afraid of progress, afraid of wonder. Turns out they had a right to be afraid. How I wish I had listened to Gilgame . . ."

Towers of Midnight, A Testing

The old story of power corrupting. The name ‘Far Madding’ is a reference to Far From the Madding Crowd (the title of a Thomas Hardy novel) and emphasises the separationist policy of the city-state.

Rand makes a half-reference to Gilgamesh, the Mesopotamian hero king of the Epic of Gilgamesh who built a wall to keep his people safe and searched for the secret of eternal life. Like many legendary figures in the real world, or The Wheel of Time, he was also an historic person. The stedding ter’angreal installed at Far Madding were a kind of wall to keep the people safe from channelling. The earlier communities perhaps banned channelling or were like gated communities.

Min fears Rand has the memories of a madman which will corrupt him, but Rand assures her that he and Lews Therin always were each other, being the same soul, so it makes no difference. Both of them have made mistakes and been arrogant. The important difference is that Rand was raised better, and people close to him kept him more grounded. He lists the three women he loves, the two he takes to Shayol Ghul, and Mat and Perrin and his father. They have made him stronger, so he was able to overcome despair. It’s noticeable that he doesn’t mention Egwene, but does mention Moiraine.

Cadsuane is less patronising to Rand after his previous push-back, and advises him to show strength, not arrogance. The Borderlanders will want to fight for Rand. Rand is a bit dubious becauses he senses that they are here to challenge him, but doesn’t know how or why. He returns her courtesy by thanking her. Cadsuane’s personal thoughts, that Rand has persuaded the Borderlanders to follow him against the odds, show she wasn’t as confident as she appears here.

Rand can see King Easar’s grief, but the others don’t. Cadsuane gives a brief assessment of each ruler, and Min her viewings of them – and it’s noticeable that they all have them

The Borderlanders should be at home to fight the Shadowspawn incursions, but felt that finding Rand is more important. They expected to be back much sooner, but were delayed by the weather (part of the Pattern) and Rand moving around so much. Rand insists on facing them alone, and he commands the Aiel to let them hit him; he turns the other cheek as Jesus did. They injured him because he has injured the nations. Well the Dragon is one with the Land and each takes on the wounds of the other. Cadsuane points out that he was prophesied to break the world and therefore shouldn’t be punished for it.

When they ask him how Tellindal Tirraso died, he is hugely upset they know her name because he still feels guilt from accidentally killing her. In this Age he made a list of all those he killed or died for him.

Demandred’s Eighty and One—Demandred being the One, no doubt—which aimed to get Lews Therin is symbolic of the number eighty one being one more than a combination of justice and perfection, and thus Demandred trying to outdo and then kill the Creator’s Champion.

Cadsuane POV

Cadsuane is uncomfortable in Far Madding, but Rand, who also supposedly can’t channel there is comfortable with armies and thirteen unallied Aes Sedai around him. Well, she wanted him to show strength. This also shows how much Rand has changed, and Cadsuane acknowledges this and gives grudging respect. Then she reassures herself that she is still needed.

Kiruna is not the only Aes Sedai the Nachiman family has produced—an earlier one could Foretell. Her prophecy is that the Arafellin King must confront Rand and test his restraint by bloodying him; test whether he is ready to sacrifice himself freely and without resentment. If Rand hasn’t the memories of Lews Therin he must be killed so the world ends. It’s not so much that Lews Therin’s knowledge is essential, but more that Rand needs to be integrated with Lews Therin—be more than Lews Therin—and understand him to win against the Dark One. It’s OK—probably good, even—if Rand hopes to survive, though. Rand thinks the testing was a foolish risk – but Arafellin are gamblers.

The reason why Rand thinks it was foolish is that he believes prophecy shows what can happen if conditions are met, not what will happen. Paitar thinks that if Rand was killed for not having Lews Therin’s memories he could be replaced at very short notice:

"Only a month earlier," Rand said. "I wouldn't have had the memories to answer you. This was a foolish gambit. If you had killed me, then all would have been lost."
"A gamble," Paitar said evenly. "Perhaps another would have risen in your stead."
"No," Rand said. "This prophecy was like the others. A declaration of what might happen, not advice."

Towers of Midnight, A Testing

Self-fulfilling prophecies are a danger as well as a conundrum.

The Creator’s Champion is not easily replaced though. Rand says that if he came to them before his epiphany on Dragonmount, he would have balefired them (with the True Power) for the assault. Cadsuane wonders at this—she doesn’t know about True Power—but I bet she researches it now, and a good thing, too.

Rand tells the Borderlanders that he was barely able to save Maradon and without his gateways they can’t get back to protect their lands. However, in exchange for their oaths he will have their Aes Sedai taught Travelling. Tomorrow he’ll hold a meeting with world leaders then go to Shayol Ghul to break the Seals, “break what he must break”. He says the Foretelling proves what he will do, which contradicts the caveat he just made on prophecy. He gives them an hour to decide and will apologise to Hurin while he waits. Meanwhile Cadsuane wants to check out their Aes Sedai, to see what their allegiances are, presumably.

The end is to happen soon. Cadsuane wonders if they are ready but she doesn’t ask herself if the Shadow is ready.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Towers of Midnight Read-through #57: Chapter 50 - Choosing Enemies


By Linda

Elayne POV

Politics and scheming are central in this chapter. On the positive side, Elayne takes a major step toward uniting another country for the Last Battle. On the negative, it provides the background for why Rand’s treaty is a great idea, since Elayne knows very well how close the Last Battle is, yet she wants to gain the throne for personal ambitions more than for doing Cairhien a public service. (Proved when she objected just as loudly as any other ruler at Rand’s limitation of national borders.)

As Rand said before she made her objections known:

Even Elayne had gobbled up another country when the opportunity presented itself. She would do so again. It was the nature of rulers, the nature of nations. In Elayne's case, it even seemed appropriate, as Cairhien would be better off beneath her rule than it had been.

How many would assume the same? That they, of course, could rule better—or restore order—in another land?

A Memory of Light, To Require a Boon

Elayne stages her demotion of Elenia Sarand, Naean Arawn and Arymilla Marne. The women have been abandoned by their Houses, which they bankrupted. She expects they would suicide rather than face them.

Since they can’t be ransomed, Elayne seizes their estates for the crown so she can put them to use to further her own ambitions: she uses the estates of the failed candidates for one throne to garner support for another. This includes assuming their considerable debts to support the bankers. Even if the destitute Houses could afford to pay, it would further the feuds between them and House Trakand.

The scene mirrors that of Rand stripping Colavaere, who had committed crimes as well as “usurped” his position. He stripped her of her titles and lands, whereas Elayne stripped the Houses of their lands. Elayne directly compares the two events, an awareness unusual for mirroring sub-threads.

His [Bertome’s] cousin, Colavaere, had received a similar punishment from Rand, though that had not affected her entire House.

Towers of Midnight, Choosing Enemies

Elayne summoned those of middling power in Cairhien. Riatin is a powerful House but has lost political influence because the Head, Toram, has vanished (killed by Lan in Winter’s Heart). The Andoran Queen needs to cultivate these people because they stand in her way to gain the Sun Throne.

Andorans are bored by the Game of Houses and think it unnecessary. Yet it is essential if they want to successfully negotiate with Cairhienin. For all that Elayne thinks Cairhienin are skilled in the Game of Houses, she speaks of waiting for various nobles to catch on. Either she is being portrayed as more skilful than they, or else her overtures are so crudely done they think they are missing what she’s on about. (It’s probably meant to be the former).

Her intentions should have been obvious by now-sending some of the Band to the city had been an obvious move, nearly too obvious for the subtle Cairhienin.

Towers of Midnight, Choosing Enemies

Obvious or not, the Cairhienin were in no position to do anything about it. Elayne thinks they wonder if she will promote a Cairhienin as a candidate to the throne to gain an ally. Surely they are not so naïve as to think this, since, as a Damodred, Elayne has a strong claim AND Rand announced she was to have the throne.

In fact, Lorstrum explains that their reticence is because no one dares to try for the throne in case Rand is annoyed with them - for stepping into a place he has announced for Elayne (harkening back to the Colavaere situation again). Elayne was peeved Rand did this and ignores this hint because she wants to win the throne in her own right as a Damodred. Obliquely she suggests that Cairhienin might educate her about her Cairhienin heritage, reminding them that she has a strong claim to the throne. Very tactful and polite of her.

Then she bribes them to promote her claims to gain a bloodless ascension.

But what if she gave lands within Andor to some of the Cairhienin nobility? What if she created multiple bonds between their countries? What if she proved that she would not steal their titles-but would instead be willing to give some of them greater holdings? Would that be enough to prove that she didn't intend to steal the lands of the Cairhien nobility and give them to her own people? Would that ease their worries?

Towers of Midnight, Choosing Enemies

Also a very quick one; though some groundwork was laid by sending half the Band there about a week earlier (Towers of Midnight, A Reunion). Which is smart considering that there is little time left before the Last Battle.

On the Andoran side, she also offers Cairhienin lands to the three dispossessed nobles to give them a second chance and a new start away from Andor. One of the most positive outcomes of this scene is the mercy she shows to Elenia, Naean and Arymilla.

”If I were to find you and your husband a place to form a new seat in Cairhien, would you take what is given?"

Towers of Midnight, Choosing Enemies

For all that Elayne worries about Jarid Sarand’s whereabouts and intentions, he is not likely to survive to be a problem, as we see in the next book. Elenia reminds me of a harder, more ruthless Elayne. They have similar colouring, control and courage. It will be some time before Arymilla and Naean regain any confidence, if ever.

In contrast, Morgase somewhat regretted that she made a kind of peace with her rivals:

When she assumed the throne she had pardoned them for everything they had done during the Succession, as she had pardoned everyone who opposed her. It had seemed best to bury all animosities before they could fester into the sort of plotting and scheming that infected so many lands. The Game of Houses it was called-Daes Dae'mar-or the Great Game, and it led to endless, tangled feuds between Houses, to the toppling of rulers; the Game was at the heart of the civil war in Cairhien, and no doubt had done its part in the turmoil enveloping Arad Doman and Tarabon. The pardons had had to go to all to stop Daes Dae'mar being born in Andor, but could she have left any unsigned, they would have been the parchments with those seven's names…They had had to pry their jaws open to swear fealty, and she could hear the lie on their tongues. Anyone would leap at a chance to pull her down, and all seven together.

The Fires of Heaven, Memories

and it seems the rivals regretted it too. The peace didn’t work; the Seven Houses had no wish for it. Will Elayne’s re-establishment work better? They will owe her (and may come to resent it) and it will take time for them to gain influence in a new land.

Morgase thinks Elayne brilliant, but Dyelin is uncomfortable with the risks she takes. Perhaps this shows that Dyelin’s temperament is unsuitable for ruling, but also that Morgase is over-confident. Myself, I don’t think Elayne was that skilled a player, it was more a matter of her holding an unbeatable hand. Elayne is making bonds between Andor and Cairhien to make herself less unique and to show that both sides will benefit. It is an excellent way for both countries to unite. Long-term she may bequeath the countries to different children. Although at this stage, with Rand about to depart anonymous, there’s not much chance for more children unless he returns under a new identity. Perhaps Elayne’s daughter will inherit both crowns with her twin brother as her protector and supporter

Lorstrum and Bertome agree because each sees the chance to take both thrones. As the chapter title indicates, Elayne is choosing her competition. They won’t be a real threat for ten years, she estimates, and she will play each against the other.

This is more like Egwene’s situation in Salidar in some ways. She had to go against custom and promote some Accepted to Aes Sedai to be less of an anomaly. Then she played Romanda and Lelaine off against each other, and also had Sheriam to deal with.

Elayne is surrounded by enemies as we shall see.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Towers of Midnight Read-through #56: Chapter 49 - Court of the Sun


By Linda

Aviendha POV

Aviendha's visions in the previous chapter had references to the "Vale of Tears"; the ones in this chapter don't; they're more about how and why the Aiel were "punished" for their sins in the Fourth Age. "We have to go to war because it's all we are good at and the other side are nasty" is not really a justification. To reverse a saying, the Aiel are definitely more "sinning" than "sinned against".

In Ladalin's POV the Seanchan have the upper hand, and the Aiel are greatly reduced. There are now only five clans, led by three clan chiefs and two Wise Ones. Rhuidean, so long under siege, has been captured. However the Aiel haven't developed an alternative method for choosing leaders.

The Aiel are still Aiel here, unlike in the previous chapter, but their customs have changed. They no longer take gai'shain because they don't fight the other clans, after making peace with each other in front of Rand, and being focussed only on war with the Seanchan. Each person has little choice of whether to be a warrior or not. Gai'shain now means "without honour", which is what dat'sang used to mean, and show the low status of those who don't fight (except for blacksmiths who provide fighting tools). Their social structure is narrowing to an economically unsustainable degree, I suspect. Hence the repeated "requests for aid" from the Wetlander rulers and the envy of others' beautiful possessions.

The Aiel are living on the edge. They have no time or resources for anything but the essentials. They are fighting for survival but don't acknowledge this until towards the end of Ladalin's POV when the leaders are forced to accept that they have lost the war.

Mora thinks the clans should retreat to the Waste and seek penance for not following the Dragon's Peace.

"The Dragon left us!" Takai said.

Towers of Midnight, Court of the Sun

But he left everybody - all the nations, not just the Aiel. Not being under the umbrella of the peace treaty, the Aiel broke the Dragon's wishes.

Ladalin advises retreating to the Waste to build up resources, rather than as a penance. However resources are more limited in the Waste, and the Aiel can be boxed in there.

War has decimated the Aiel. Collaring their channelling Wise Ones is worse than killing them because it increases the strength of the Seanchan enemy at the expense of the Aiel. Ladalin wishes she could channel, yet if she could she would likely already be collared and using the Power against her people.

Once the other nations joined the war - deceived by the Aiel - the Seanchan were justified in attacking them. Male channellers can't be leashed, and also weren't included in the treaty; therefore the Seanchan kill them. So the Asha'man have to continue fighting the Seanchan.

According to Ladalin, the Seanchan gained cannon, presumably by conquering Andor, or by buying the technology or knowledge of its manufacture, after Oncala's POV. They have all the nations under their control, now. Except the Aiel.

Ladalin thinks that fighting in secret would be dishonourable, although

Of course, what did honor matter now?

Towers of Midnight, Court of the Sun

The Aiel no longer consider honour much--or responsibility, either. But unfortunately they stopped thinking about responsibility far sooner.

"This is his fault," Takai said, still looking sullen. "The Car'a'carn could have led us to glory, but he abandoned us."
"His fault?" Ladalin said, understanding perhaps for the first time why that statement was wrong. "No. Aiel take responsibility for themselves. This is our fault, and not that of my distant greatfather. We have forgotten who we are. We are without honor."

Towers of Midnight, Court of the Sun

Taking responsibility is honour and that's something they haven't done for decades. They even blame their lack of honour, too, on the Dragon.

"Our honor was taken from us," Takai said, sighing as he stood. "People of the Dragon indeed. What is the good of being his people? We were crafted to be a spear, the legends say, forged in the Three-fold Land. He used us, then cast us away. What is a discarded spear to do, but go to war?"

Towers of Midnight, Court of the Sun

Yet we see in the next POV that they were responsible for tossing honour away. The Aiel are the ones who see themselves only as spears. These people need to transform themselves: widen their function and sense of purpose, not whine that Rand didn't lead them to glory, or left them without a role. Rand's peace wasn't intended to make the Aiel happy; it was for the good of the world. The Aiel felt they were a special people and therefore entitled accordingly.

For a different reason, the Seanchan also remained outsiders.

Her hatred of the invaders ran deep. Perhaps that hatred had destroyed the Aiel.

Towers of Midnight, Court of the Sun

Indeed, hatred of the Seanchan did destroy the Aiel.

Honour doesn't equal war. Aiel are obsessed with ji, and claim that they have been robbed of it, but don't consider toh, obligation, the other side of the equation. Aviendha thinks war with the Seanchan is pointless. The Aiel went to war because it was apparently all they knew. War and hate. They never bothered to learn anything from the other nations. Aviendha - the bridge between the Aiel and Rand/Wetlanders, as the Wise Ones put it - needs to teach them this. But first she has to be less parochial.

Oncala is announced by a banner. Aviendha's Dragon-lineage children are given honour that no Aiel has been granted before, and it has done little good. Oncala is very arrogant, and tends to insult people.

She knew she was not good with people. When she spoke, insults were too common.

Towers of Midnight, Court of the Sun

The Aiel were a meritocracy, not an aristocracy. A guard of two thousand seems an excessive amount of honour even for the Dragon's granddaughter. Oncala and Hehyal displayed this honour while abandoning honour with their deception. Oncala sneers at the Seanchan for having no honour, then deliberately lies by omission to the Andoran monarch to bring the Andorans into the war. This is a betrayal of trust - by the embassy, and of a cousin at that.

Aviendha's granddaughter intends to marry the guy who killed the most Seanchan in his society. Hehyal has not actually gone to Rhuidean to be tested because the Seanchan are besieging it, preventing the Aiel from promoting leaders. The Aiel never develop an alternative way of proving leadership qualities. Potential leaders won't be tested in future--this future. (Instead Aviendha changes the future here by viewing this and resolving to do something about it.)

Oncala thinks she should fight in her youth, because that's the time to do so. At this time the Aiel are not fighting out of necessity, whereas later they must keep fighting to maintain their stalemate with the Seanchan and later still just fight to survive.

Oncala envies the Andoran queen's property, and thinks it is only still there because Aiel are defending it. Yet the Seanchan are not at war with the Andorans at this stage, only the Aiel, so why do the Andorans need defending? Further questions arise when Oncala thinks the Aiel will destroy the Seanchan and then intends for the Wetlanders to "pay" for their lack of tribute to the Aiel. Apparently the Aiel are getting payment for protection, or is it protection money, or even charity? The Wetlanders are not at war with the Seanchan, so do they actually need protection from them? Are they actually paying the Aiel to stay away?

By Aiel custom, someone important should have come out to meet Oncala and Hehyal to show them respect; they are being treated as supplicants. This is justified because they have asked for aid on previous visits. The aid may be monetary since Oncala thinks of making the nations "wish they had been more generous" (Towers of Midnight, Court of the Sun). If the nations gave military aid, this would be a violation of the peace treaty with the Seanchan.

The battle lines have not changed since the Last Battle, so victory is by no means assured. Yet if the Aiel are better fighters now than they were at the Last Battle, as Oncala claims, then they are only just holding their own. Oncala is kidding herself. Hatred, ambition and envy have corrupted her. She refuses to acknowledge that the Andoran nobility are her equals. In her, Aiel parochialism has become overweening arrogance. There is nothing good to be said about this woman.

Apparently the Andoran palace gates are kept closed, but were left open for Oncala and Hehyal. Oncala resents to the point of hatred that the the Aiel can't beat the Seanchan without help from the Andorans (despite her earlier posturing). She corrupts the Andorans by leading them to violate a treaty. Of course, they could have refused to do so, but they trusted the Aiel, and not the Seanchan. The Andoran Queen picked the wrong side.

The Queen's Guard checks the proffered papers for physical danger, but ironically the danger is from both what is written in the text and what is omitted. The Andorans are distrustful; the Aiel's hostile feelings for them are obviously evident. Oncala hypocritically complains that they are treated like assassins. Yet their lies will result in continent-wide subjugation of states and people and the enslavement or deaths of hundreds of thousands. They assassinated world peace.

Hehyal repeats the misleading passage in the Seanchan prophecies that Rand's bowing to the Empress was an act of obeisance when in fact it was a courtesy designed to shame her (see Essanik Prophecy article); this will occur in A Memory of Light, Older, More Weathered. The Empress acknowledged the Dragon as her equal but Hehyal (and Talana) believe the Seanchan think the Empress was above him. They may well do so now - the passage of time changing remembered history is an important theme in the Wheel of Time. The Empress is an absolute monarch and acts like she can't be constrained by anything. In A Memory of Light, To Ignore the Omens, Tuon didn't consider her oath to Rand binding until Mat pressed her. On the other hand, she also believes in law and order.

Once the two deceivers scent victory, Hehyal has second thoughts about whether they should have done it. Oncala thinks their honour is intact because they lied by omission; the sort of sophistry everyone despised the Aes Sedai for. Aes Sedai are an example of the "sinners who cannot lie" trope, part of the contradictory aspects of carnival, which was an expression of chaos. (The Dark One is against order and tries to disrupt and weaken the Pattern by unleashing chaos. More practically, if Aes Sedai are untrustworthy, then the lies of the Black Ajah are less obvious.) Deception by omission or false implication is still a betrayal of trust. Oncala thinks it's OK because she is blinded by her ambition to rule a Dragon empire. She justifies this as making a pre-emptive strike against an enemy who would undoubtedly attack in future.

When the Aiel say they are "holding off" Seanchan for the Andorans and other nations, I wonder if this is how the Seanchan see it. Have they prepared contingency plans because they know the Aiel have repeatedly tried to get the Andorans to break the peace pact, and believe the Andorans are likely to be persuaded to do so sooner or later?

A griffin is a lion-eagle cross, so the Pact of the Griffin refers to the Andoran/Two Rivers alliance. The Court of the Sun would include Cairhien. Cairhien and Andor may be held by different rulers now, if they are in different alliances (each probably descendants of Elayne.)

It is forty years since the next POV and some 57 years after the Last Battle, but Talana is Elayne's granddaughter and is forty or so. Elayne should still be alive, but then so should Aviendha. What happened to them? Were they collared? Or are they dead?

At this time the Seanchan already have cannon:

The descriptions of Andor's military forces, suggestions on how to use gateways and dragons to attack Caemlyn, the very plot to assassinate Queen Talana-these had been drawn up only in case Andor entered the war.

Towers of Midnight, Court of the Sun

Ladalin's early childhood was soon after Seanchan attacked Aiel's Arad Doman camp and fought at Almoth Plain. Yet Ladalin says the Seanchan gained cannon twenty years earlier. She is an old woman and the Almoth Plain strikes (early stage of war) happened when she was a young child. The inconsistency may be an error, or may show the confusion, and resulting loss or corruption of knowledge, of these times.

All of Aviendha's four children have channelled since childhood. This is the something odd that Min saw about them.

Min wondered whether to tell her [Aviendha] what she had seen while they were all together. Aviendha would have Rand’s babies, too. Four of them at once! Something was odd about that, though. The babies would be healthy, but still something odd.

Winter’s Heart, A Lily in Winter

Padra says she holds the One Power constantly - but another way of looking at it is that she cannot release it, and, forgetting what it is like to be without it, has become arrogant. She takes her power for granted and looks down on those without it. In a way, she has been consumed by it, by her belief in her own strength and invincibility. Yet she will be gone in less than 110 years (40 years of war and the 70-odd years of Ladalin's life). Padra is now less than 17. Neither she nor her sister were present or mentioned in Ladalin's POV, another two disappeared channellers. Her siblings' disparate descriptions hints of genetic links to Moridin's body, since Rand and Aviendha had similar colouring to each other.

Rand's survival appears to be unknown still, yet he and Aviendha must have been together for a while soon enough after the Last Battle that everyone thinks he fathered them before he apparently died. His children don't know him. He may be dead; certainly lost. How/why is Aviendha gone? Her children wouldn't be raised so high so young if she were still around. Did she "follow after" Rand? Abandoning duty would be out of character for her.

Padra believes in a meritocracy and in her own superiority due to inherited abilities. She doesn't believe in aristocracy (although she might believe in royalty due to superior genetic lines). This is not an earlier Aiel belief.

The Aiel show Padra deference, which is not traditional. It is interesting that the Aiel, who are so resistant to social change, make such bad changes and have worse ones forced upon them. In the camp, Padra "dismissed her spear-sisters," yet she's 16-17 years old at most. Traditionally, Maidens are still junior at this age. All four siblings give advice to the clan chiefs, yet in earlier times clan chiefs were resistant to advice from the (much more experienced) Wise Ones. The Aiel revere Rand's children because they are all they have left of him. They followed Rand - and continue to in the form of his children. This meeting of clan chiefs and Rand's/Aviendha's children has no Wise Ones, even non-channelling ones. Marinna is in training (apprentice), being 16-17. The Taardad clan chief is young if he is only 10 years older than Padra. Even if he is a skilled an intelligent man. The Last Battle left its scars on the AIel and killed so many experienced and potential leaders.

The Aiel want to fight - be warriors. It's the main way to earn honour. The clans are angry that the Seanchan won't give the Wise One damane back, so they resolve to take them by force. Many years passed since Tuon was Empress - therefore she was gone within a few years of the Last Battle. As with Aviendha, her fate is unknown; she may be dead, but she may have been collared. A damane is dead to human society. Yet the Seanchan speak of Rand bowing to the Empress. It is hard to reconcile this with an Empress being enslaved and un-personed for channelling. Perhaps Tuon chose to suicide for the good of the Empire once she channelled. Tuon is a Nemesis figure and it was always likely that she would be her own Nemesis and channel.

As for the Seanchan, they too are morally grey. The Aiel were wronged by the Seanchan's harsh customs/laws. The possibility that Aviendha was one of those collared a few years after the Last Battle really brings this home to us, because we know and like Aviendha. It was curious that Aviendha doesn't wonder at the way she and all her channelling friends vanished so young in her visions of the future; I guess she was too stunned and overwhelmed at the magnitude of the disaster shown here, or assumed they all died in the Last Battle.

The Aiel don't want to raid each other after being at peace all these years (17 of them). They see this as pointless, but other fighting as not pointless. Like Oncala will do, they justify their plan to attack the Seanchan by saying that the peace won't hold between the nations. (Yet it did for a further 40 years until it was broken by a misplaced trust in the Aiel). However it is under considerable pressure due to no enforcement or mediation provisions. This is what the Aiel should be. Rand was not Aiel, and did not feel close to them. He did not plan for them, out of respect.

Ronam is right that returning to the Waste will destroy the Aiel.

"Some say we should have returned to the Three-fold Land," she said. "No," Ronam said. "No, that would have destroyed us. Our fathers knew nothing of steamhorses or dragon tubes. Were the Aiel to return to the Waste, we would have become irrelevant. The world would pass us by, and we would vanish as a people."

Towers of Midnight, Court of the Sun

He does not know if the Aiel should go to war, but believes it is what Aiel do. And it is an opportunity to earn honour.

Again there is much talk about honour, but none about obligation in this more traditional society. Yet both were equally important in Aiel society. Aviendha's children were the first to abandon obligation, due to being shown great honour without earning it.

When it is all over, Aviendha sits in middle of the glass columns as they power down. The vision feels destined to her, unchangeable, but she has to try to change it. Her line is responsible for the decay of the Aiel, the ultimate dishonour. She is desperate to know how it happened but the columns are switched off, unresponsive. It's all up to her.

She had come to Rhuidean seeking knowledge. Well, she had received it. In more abundance than she had wanted.
She opened her eyes and gritted her teeth. Aiel took responsibility. Aiel fought. Aiel stood for honor.

Towers of Midnight, Court of the Sun

It is one thing to gain knowledge, and another to use it honourably or to fight as a result of knowledge. Aviendha is determined to do her duty and save her people. Knowledge is useless if it is not used for decisions and actions.

Here are some pointers for Aviendha to consider. Not that it's her fault, but her children know nothing of their father, and not enough of their mother, either. Her children should not be revered or allowed to become arrogant. The peace treaty needs people to act as mediators and also enforce it.

This chapter fulfils the "he will take you back and (italics mine) he will destroy you" Aiel prophecy--in a bad way. Not that Rand directly destroyed them, except by not making them a part of the treaty. As it turned out, the prophecy was fulfilled in a positive manner as at the end of A Memory of Light. He did tie the Aiel together - to each other, and to the Wetlander nations. The Aiel have to keep following Rand's wishes, or else...

The chapter also follows the Wheel of Time theme of the effect a few people can have on history - if other people take note of them.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Towers of Midnight Read-through #55: Chapter 48 - Near Avendesora


By Linda

Aviendha POV

Aviendha thinks that she's the first to go through the glass columns in Rhuidean since Rand's advent. She and Rand are perhaps the two most important visitors to Rhuidean and the columns.

The remaining ter'angreal have been taken away from the plaza where Avendesora grows. While Aviendha assumes Aiel took them, it may have been Moridin, considering his large hoard and recently acquired items. Avendesora is the World Tree:

There stood an enormous tree, branches spread wide like arms reaching to embrace the sun. The massive tree had a perfection she could not explain. It had a natural symmetry-no missing branches, no gaping holes in its leafy upper reaches. It was particularly impressive since, when she'd last seen it, it had been blackened and burned.
In a world where other plants were dying without explanation, this one healed and nourished faster than ever should have been possible. Its leaves rustled soothingly in the wind, and its gnarled roots poked through the ground like the aged fingers of a wise elder. The tree made her want to sit and bask in the simple peace of the moment.
It was as if this tree were the ideal, the one after which all other trees were patterned. In legend it was called Avendesora. The Tree of Life.

Towers of Midnight, Near Avendesora

Chora trees are a construct, and therefore not natural. In this case they are more than natural—much more—rather than less than natural, as the Shadow’s constructs are.

Sheltered by Avendesora, Aviendha ruminates on the knowledge from her ancestors that she knew she would gain. Mat, too, ruminated under Avendesora prior to going through the redstone doorway, and was hung on the tree after gaining ancient memories, a reference to Odin, Mat's parallel, who hanged himself on the World Tree to gain knowledge. Aviendha did learn one new thing:

She'd anticipated a noble decision, where honor overcame the inferior lifestyle dictated by the Way of the Leaf.

Towers of Midnight, Near Avendesora

but everything else was as expected. The decision was not a noble one. In fact, it is surprising that she thought it would be a noble decision when by Aiel standards it can't be noble if it involves breaking oath. Pragmatic, perhaps, but not noble. Aviendha is comforted that the Aiel’s previous lapse could be redeemed by meeting their toh at the Last Battle.

The Jenns' decision to take up a weapon was an impulse, not a decision. Because Aiel society knows only fighting, they see it as honourable, and many of those who want to achieve or earn status in Aiel society do so through battle. Therefore there is an underlying desire to battle even when there is no reason to fight, as she will see in columns, which can lead to corruption. Despite being in the wetlands for some time, Aviendha still is parochial, which shows the depth of Aiel prejudice, due to the nation not having regular peaceful contact with other societies. It is this attitude, plus continuation of warfare as a way of life which will potentially lead to the Aiel’s downfall.

More and more, she was coming to believe that tradition for the sake of tradition was foolishness. Good traditions-strong, Aiel traditions-taught the ways of ji'e'toh, methods of survival.

Towers of Midnight, Near Avendesora

Until now, the Aiel have fought to survive. But what if gets in way of survival? What if it becomes disruptive to society? The Aiel need a mechanism to deal with conflict or aggression that doesn't involve warfare.

Probing the ter’angreal shows Aviendha that the glass columns are receptive:

Indeed, the pillars seemed . . . alive, somehow. It was almost as if she could sense an awareness from them.
That gave her a chill. Was she touching the pillar, or was it touching her?

Towers of Midnight, Near Avendesora

so that they know each Aiel visitor's ancestral line and therefore what scenes and POVs from the past to replay, and, as it turns out, the most likely future. The ter’angreal can read both ways along the Wheel. Not surprisingly they are too profound or complex for Aviendha to read. As she walks away she sees a scene from the distant future. Aviendha thinks she may have re-set the ter'angreal when she tried to read one. She has faith the columns show what the Aiel need to know, that they grant wisdom as well as knowledge.

Malidra is pretty much at the end of Aviendha's line—she may even be the end. The girl is a fearful scavenger who thinks, like most who lack knowledge of science, that the Seanchan’s technology is magic.

Aviendha’s viewings in the glass columns compare and contrast strikingly with Rand’s experiences in The Shadow Rising. Malidra is a mirror to Rand’s ancestor, Rhodric, who didn't believe in snow, and had experienced only drought.

Malidra had heard stories of a place beyond the distant mountains, where the land was green and food grew everywhere.
She didn't believe those lies.

Towers of Midnight, Near Avendesora

Malidra follows the Lightmakers, whereas Rhodric followed the Jenn Aiel and the Aes Sedai. However the Lightmakers gave her nothing; they killed her for trying to take, as she would have killed them for their belongings, whereas Rhodric helped the future Cairhienin and also served the Jenn.

“We guard the Jenn,” Jeordam said. “It is they who travel with Aes Sedai.”

The Shadow Rising, The Road to the Spear

Aviendha debates the significance of Malidra’s scene and dares to go into the columns twice (which is forbidden) to gain knowledge. As it turns out, the Aiel will destroy themselves if she does not. Rand’s ancestor, Mandein, and all other Aiel leaders, had to go to Rhuidean because otherwise the Aiel would destroy themselves (The Shadow Rising, The Road to the Spear).

She is pleased that Da'shain had honour and respect:

The Aiel in the Age of Legends had been peaceful servants, respected. How could they have started as scavengers?

Towers of Midnight, Near Avendesora

Aviendha thinks it is better to die than become a scavenger. The Da'shain Aiel would rather die than be violent or kill.

The Aiel have been choked off economically as well as physically. Due to social disruption, they have lost knowledge on surviving in the Waste. Shaving in the desert is a sign of high standards. In Malidra’s time, the Aiel folk are bearded, a sign of their greater decay, not being able to spare the water, tools and time to shave.

In the next POV, Rowahn was charged to maintain Aiel customs:

Her father had inherited his clothing from his grandfather, along with a charge. Follow the old ways. Remember ji'e'toh. Fight and maintain honor.

Towers of Midnight, Near Avendesora

- the few customs that are remembered. Likewise the Jenn were charged to follow the Way of the Leaf:

“The Trees of Life.” When he still looked at her blankly, she shook her head. “Three little trees planted in barrels. They care for them almost as well as they do for themselves. When they find a place of safety, they mean to plant them; they say the old days will return, then. They. I said they. Very well. I am not Jenn anymore.” She hefted the shortened spear. “This is my husband now.” Eyeing him closely, she asked, “If someone stole your child, would you talk of the Way of the Leaf and suffering sent to test us?”

The Shadow Rising, The Road to the Spear

and accept suffering as a test of faith. Rowahn looks on the Aiel’s trials as a punishment which they must endure:

"We must rebuild," her father said, surveying the wreckage.
"Rebuild?" said a soot-stained man. "The granary was the first to burn! There is no food!"
"We will survive," her father said. "We can move deeper into the Waste."
"There is nowhere else to go!" another man said. "The Raven Empire has sent word to the Far Ones, and they hunt us at the eastern border!"
"They find us whenever we gather!" another cried.
"It is a punishment!" her father said. "But we must endure!"

Towers of Midnight, Near Avendesora

Once the settlements are abandoned, and the Aiel scattered, they are doomed as a people.

Aviendha’s descendant, Tava, returned the child to the grateful mother and then helped gather sand and dirt, just as Rand’s ancestor, Jeordam, helped the Jenn retrieve a daughter and other womenfolk.

Aviendha moves backwards in the future as she progresses. Forward, and back, as Rand did.

Rand’s feet moved of their own accord. Forward. And back in time.

The Shadow Rising, The Road to the Spear

Unwillingly, Aviendha realises that the Ravens and Lightmakers are Seanchan. The Far Ones would be the Sharans.

Rand saw the corruption of the Da'shain Aiel, Aviendha sees the corruption and decay of the Aiel. Da'shain would be just as upset to see their people abandon the Way, as Aviendha is to see the Aiel abandon ji'e'toh and lose honour.

This sub-thread has real world parallels in the displacement and destruction of North American indigenous peoples (and of those of other countries) by invaders with more advanced technologies, and to the Trail of Tears in particular. It also is a reverse Exodus, since the Aiel have strong parallels with the Israelites, showing what happens if the Aiel do not follow the spirit of the Dragon’s peace pact and leave the promised land of the Wetlands that he led them to, isolating themselves in the Waste.