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Reading The Wheel of Time: Shalon Loses the Sun in Winter’s Heart (Part 16)

Welcome back once again to Reading The Wheel of Time. This week we are covering chapters 22 to 24 of Winter’s Heart, in which Rand travels to Far Madding and then is followed by renegade Asha’man, by Luc, and finally, by Cadsuane and her entourage, including Harine and Shalon. Far Madding is a fascinating new addition to the world, and I’m really excited to get into it with all of you. So let’s get on to the recap!

In the Amhara Market in Far Madding, Rand secretly follows Manel Rochaid through the crowd. Rand is in disguise, with his hair dyed black and wearing nondescript clothing, but Rochaid’s fancy red coat stands out among the subdued colors worn by local men. Rand is confident that Rochaid doesn’t know that Rand is following him, and probably wouldn’t recognize Rand even if he saw him. Rand thinks that Rochaid is a fool, while Lews Therin panics in Rand’s head, insisting that Rand is the fool for coming to such a place, that they must leave immediately. But Rand is focused on his intention to kill Rochaid, ideally before the rest of his quarry arrive; they’re on equal footing here, but it’s always a good idea to cut down the odds. 

Lews Therin continues to wail in Rand’s head that being in this place is as good as death, which Rand rather agrees with. However, sometimes the only choice is between bad and worse. He is suddenly hit by a wave of dizziness and sees a murky face before him. When he recovers, he has lost sight of Rochaid. When he eventually finds him again, Rochaid is acting differently, covering his coat and peace-bonded sword with his cloak and scurrying along the edges of buildings.

Rand follows him down a maze of alleyways until he comes upon the Asha’man, standing with his cloak thrown back, waiting for Rand. Rochaid says that Rand was easy to bait and begins to draw his sword—Rand sees that the peace bond has been cut—but Rand darts forward and clamps his hands down, trapping the blade. He punches Rochaid in the throat, crushing his windpipe, then hears a sound behind him and knocks Rochaid to the ground, falling on top of him as a sword swings over his head. Rand rolls and comes up with Rochaid’s sword in his hands, and sees that Raefar Kisman has stabbed Rochaid in an attempt to stab Rand.

Kisman readies himself to face Rand, obviously nervous, but they are interrupted by the sounds of the Street Guards. Knowing that they’ll both be arrested if they are found standing over a dead body, both men agree to let the other go, and they take off in opposite directions.

Kisman easily melts into the crowd, relieved to see the Street Guard rushing past him. He tells himself he was a fool to let Rochaid talk him into this plan. Kisman’s even a little uncertain if they are actually supposed to kill Rand. but what he does know is that Far Madding is their last chance to make good on the failure at Cairhien.

He is trying to decide what to do next when he feels a knife slice into his arm, and hears a voice say “He belongs to me.” But when he turns around he can’t see anyone, and Kisman can’t understand why the small wound hurts so terribly. When his hand begins to swell and blacken, he realizes that he is going to die. His last thought is that he had been promised he could live forever, and that one of the Chosen must have decided to punish him for some reason.

Rand returns to the inn where he, Min, Nynaeve, Lan, and Alivia are staying. When he explains what has happened, Lan and Min begin packing at once. Alivia tells Rand that there’s too much he needs to do to get himself killed, and that he must let them help. When everyone has left, Min tells Rand that she never felt anything in the bond when he was attacked, no fear or anger or even concern. Rand responds that he wasn’t angry—the man just needed killing. 

Min agrees with Alivia that Rand must let them help, and suggests that maybe he could describe the men to her. Rand realizes, suddenly, that he could draw them all perfectly, so that anyone could recognize their faces. He has never known how to draw before—but Lews Therin does. Rand thinks that thought should frighten him.

Isam waits in Tel’aran’rhiod, a place where he feels more comfortable than in the waking world. He carefully unsheathes two poison daggers, then steps from the Dream into the real world. As he does so, he becomes Luc. Luc stabs two people in their beds, and when they are dead he turns on the light to study their faces. He likes seeing the faces of those he’s killed, and cherishes the memories, even those kills that were carried out by Isam.

Stepping back into Tel’aran’rhiod, Luc reports to his patron that the people in the room were not the people he was sent to kill. His patron, who has done something with the One Power that makes it impossible for Luc to look directly at him or to remember what his voice sounds like, tells Luc to wait for an order before trying again, then leaves through a gateway.

It really was a pity. He had rather looked forward to killing his nephew and the wench. But if there was time to pass, hunting was always a pleasure. He became Isam. Isam liked killing wolves even more than Luc did.

Shalon rides her horse through a gateway made by the Aes Sedai, following Harine and Moad, Harine’s Swordmaster, out of the stable yard of the Sun Palace and into a clearing. Shalon is disappointed that she wasn’t allowed to see the weaving of the gateway. She is aware of many strange, hidden currents running between Cadsuane and the other Aes Sedai, and is also confused about the status of Eben, Damar, and Jahar.

Harine, meanwhile, is angry and frustrated with Cadsuane, who is not treating Harine as Harine’s status demands. Harine and Shalon are both excited about the prospect of being able to move ships at sea through Gateways, and Harine instructs Shalon to pretend to spy on Harine for Cadsuane in return for being taught the weaves.

Their conversation is interrupted by Sarene Nemdahl riding up to join them. Sarene explains that Cadsuane has instructed her to be Harine’s attendant, to answer her questions and instruct her on customs. Shalon expects Harine to deride or tease Sarene, but is confused when Harine becomes flustered. Serene seems not to notice or understand, but agrees to pretend to forget something Harine wants her to forget. As they ride, Shalon tries to make sense of the conflicting currents and attitudes between the various Aes Sedai.

When Sarene suddenly murmurs that the men cannot channel now, Shalon takes this to mean that Eben, Damar, and Jahar were gentled, and this is why the Aes Sedai could bond them as Warders. Sarene corrects her assumption by explaining Far Madding.

The city, she explains, possesses a ter’angreal—or perhaps three connected ter’angreal—that were presumably made during the Breaking. These ter’angreal block the ability to channel or to feel the True Source. For men it is a wider diameter than for women, but before they cross the bridge into the city all the female channelers will also lose the ability to touch the True Source.

Shalon can’t imagine what it will feel like to not even be able to sense the True Source, but when the moment comes it isn’t as horrible as she feared. She feels empty, but she can bear that feeling for a while.

Far Madding exists on an island in the middle of a lake. At the bridge their names are taken and all the swords and larger knives of the men are peace tied by respectful guards. Harine and Moad are reluctant, but when Harine asks how Moad will defend himself if his weapon is inaccessible, the guards reply that no man needs to defend himself in Far Madding—the Street Guards take care of that.

Shalon tries to be observant as they enter the city, but she finds it difficult to concentrate on anything as she struggles with the empty feeling and wonders how long Harine will want to stay in the city. She knows Harine intends to attach herself to the Coramoor because Min told her that she will become Mistress of the Ships, and Harine believes the Coramoor will help her achieve that rank.

Until Harine left, until Cadsuane freed them from the agreement, Shalon was anchored here. Here, where there was no True Source.

Cadsuane rides straight through the open gates of the Hall of the Counsel into a sort of indoor stable yard, where they are met by a surprised man who Cadsuane quickly bullies into running to inform the First Counsel that Cadsuane Melaidhrin is here to see her.  Sarene explains to Harine and Shalon that the First Counsel is the de facto ruler of Far Madding.

After a rather arduous climb up a long staircase, Cadsuane orders Kumira to show Harine and Shalon the Guardian. Quietly, Kumira asks them to forgive Cadsuane, explaining that the Counsels are not very welcoming to Aes Sedai, and that the people of Far Madding prefer to pretend that the One Power doesn’t exist. Still, she imagines that no one will be comfortable knowing that Cadsuane has returned.

They go to the railing, where they can look down into the space below. Three women in white are seated there, and beside each is a cloudy crystal disc marked out with lines like a compass. Shalon thinks it would make more sense to see something huge and black that sucks in the light literally as well as metaphorically.

The Counsels arrive, and Shalon is impressed with the bearing and adornments of the First Counsel, who greets Harine formally and by her full title. She expresses a desire to learn more about the Atha’an Miere and offers Harine accommodations in her Palace. She is much less welcoming to Cadsuane, but Harine reluctantly tells the First Counsel that Cadsuane must stay with her. This was part of the Bargain Harine made with Cadsuane in order to be allowed to accompany her, and now Shalon knows why.

Verin suddenly announces that a man is channeling. Shalon looks and sees that the disks have turned black and all turned to point in the same direction. Watching the women below examine the compass-like points, Shalon realizes that the ovals must allow for triangulation of the location of the channeler. The First Counsel remarks that it must be an Asha’man, and he cannot trouble Far Madding; Asha’man are even free to enter the city, if they wish.

Despite Cadsuane sharply urging her to be quiet, Verin continues to muse about some siege of Far Madding, then talks about all the Dragon Reborn’s powerful forces, about the armies and the Aiel. She seems surprised and apologetic when Cadsuane tells her off for frightening the Counsels, hastily pointing out that unless they give the Dragon some reason to come after them, he’s probably much more concerned by the powerful and dangerous Seanchan, and have the Counsels heard about all the horrible things that have been happening with Seanchan?

The First Counsel instructs two of the other Counsels to escort Cadsuane, Harine, and the others to the Palace, while she and the remaining Counsels go off with Verin. Shalon suspects Verin’s surprise and Cadsuane’s annoyance is an act; she had also noticed that Jahar had slipped away even before they parted with the other men, and suspects that he was the one channeling. She wonders what the Aes Sedai are up to.

Shalon is surprised when Harine expresses concern over Shalon’s pain at being blocked from the True Source. She wants Shalon to find out what Cadsuane is doing here, but she also remembers that when she was a small child who was afraid of the dark, Shalon never left her alone with it. Surprising Shalon with her care and open affection, she promises not to leave Shalon alone with it, either.

I have to hand it to Jordan: These chapters are just flawless in their execution. There are often times in Jordan’s writing when we’re in a third person POV with a character who has a secret, or more information about an upcoming plot event than he wants the reader to know. He’ll try to write his way around it, alluding to whatever thing he is trying to keep us in suspense about, but the narration often feels contrived and artificial as a result, and it’s frustrating when you can see the strings as the author works, when there’s no reason for someone not to think in their own head of a name or an event in plain terms.

In contrast to this, however, chapter 22 feels almost effortless. We are dropped into Rand’s perspective while he is in the middle of doing something that requires focus and concentration, and it makes sense that his thoughts are going to be very focused on what he’s doing, not on musing over the fact that you can’t channel in Far Madding and why that is. He knows why he isn’t carrying his sword and why the peace tying is required, and if he’s not actively going back and thinking about it, then we’re not going to see it in the narration.

And yet, I also felt like I had all the information I needed to understand what was going on. The clues of Lews Therin’s terror, Rand’s focus on his skills at hand-to-hand fighting, and the telling line about Kisman being one of those Asha’man who never learned the sword properly because of his pride and arrogance about being a channeler let me know that for some reason channeling wasn’t an option here, either because it was blocked somehow, or because there would be devastating consequences.

It’s just a really flawless chapter, and I loved that Jordan laid so many subtle but clear hints that Rochaid knew that Rand was following him and was leading him into a trap. Rochaid is clearly an arrogant guy, but the fact that he was walking around making himself incredibly visible and openly asking people about a man matching Rand’s description should at least have made Rand consider the idea of a trap. After all, when Rand was laying all his little clues, he was trying to make it look like he was running away from Rochaid and the other. If they bought his act, then they would expect him to be on the lookout for his pursuers, and that he might flee again if he discovered any of them were in the city.

Also, the narration repeated Rand’s conviction that Rochaid didn’t know Rand was in the city and was a fool who didn’t know what he was doing a little too often, which was a narrative clue for the reader for sure. Still, Rand wasn’t wrong that he could handle Rochaid and several others besides, and I have no doubt he could have beaten Kisman just as easily, either with the sword or bare-handed fighting.

I’ve always respected Rand’s desire to learn different methods of fighting from different people and cultures, and I think it shows a lot of wisdom that he sees the value in learning as much as he can. And he has so much to learn so quickly, not just hand-to-hand combat and swordplay, but politics and games of power, different cultural demands, and of course being a male channeler and the Dragon Reborn. Just a few things. Rand has some significant blindspots, but generally he doesn’t tend to see things in narrow terms; he looks for the possibilities and angles he thinks other people overlook, whether it be as a ruler, or as a channeler, or as someone responsible for shaping the future of mankind. It’s one of the reasons I love the detail of his investment in his schools. Yes, he wants to leave behind a legacy of building something, not just destroying, but he’s also genuinely interested in all the strange new ideas and creations of the people he’s patronizing—we saw how he was watching the steam-powered creation when he and Min went to pick up Fel’s books.

It was interesting that Rand has a sudden dizzy spell and a flash of a vision in the middle of his pursuit of Rochaid. I’m sure all that sickness from the taint and the balefire collision with Moridin doesn’t ebb just because Rand is in a place where he can’t touch the True Source, but I find myself wondering if what actually happened was that he was having half a vision of Mat or Perrin’s face because one of them thought of him in that same moment, and had a vision of him. These visions must have something to do with the Pattern needing to push them back together for some reason, and since they’re all having them, it wouldn’t surprise me if they could feel the effects of each other’s thoughts, as well as their own individual ones. And since there was no nausea associated with this dizzy spell, I feel like that supports my theory that it’s something other than taint sickness.

I wonder if Rand’s lack of concern over having suddenly absorbed Lews Therin’s artistic abilities has more to do with the growing “madness” of being exposed to the taint or more to do with the way he’s hardening his emotions. I can kind of see why he wasn’t afraid in his confrontation with Rochaid and Kisman, since they were not very capable attackers, but Min observes that she felt nothing from him in the bond, even the surge of adrenalin from a fight or anger towards these men who tried to kill him, and who he came to kill. Rand replies that he felt no anger, treating the need to kill the Asha’man as nothing more than a fact, a neutral task that might be a little tricky to accomplish but that has no feeling attached to it—perhaps in the same way that he is attempting to still anger, he also is attempting to still fear. He has already accepted the fact of his death, he has faced kidnap and torture and extreme pain, he has been poisoned by Ishamael’s touch and by Mordeth-Fain’s Shadar Logoth dagger. Given that he only has one technique for dealing with any troubling emotions, why wouldn’t he crush his ability to feel fear even harder than he is attempting to crush his sense of compassion, his regrets, and his sorrow?

And to be fair, it would be kind of cool to suddenly be an amazing artist without having to slog through being a terrible artist for years and years while you practice and learn. I mean, Rand can produce incredible weaves completely instinctually. Why not a beautiful portrait, as well?

Speaking of Fain, I definitely thought that the dagger that killed Kisman was going to be his. Instead, we have discovered that Rand has a new (or possible old?) enemy whose also poison-dagger happy and also kind of obsessed with Rand and also two people in one body somehow. Or two people sharing one body, in Luc’s case.

We now have confirmation that the man Perrin knows as Slayer and the Two Rivers folk know as Lord Luc is, in fact, Rand’s uncle, Tigraine’s brother Luc. As I was reminded by a reader, Luc and Isam were actually mentioned in the Blood Calls Blood prophecy that was written on the prison walls in Fal Dara, way back in The Great Hunt. For those who like me, completely forgot about it, here’s the relevant passage.

Luc came to the Mountains of Dhoom.
Isam waited in the high passes.
The hunt is now begun. The Shadow’s hounds now course, and kill.
One did live, and one did die, but both are.

I’ll be interested to see where this goes, and if the hunted wolves mentioned at the end of the chapter are meant to refer to Rand, or Perrin, or both.

Far Madding is a fascinating addition to the world of The Wheel of Time. Sarene theorizes that the Guardian was created during the Breaking by female Aes Sedai who were trying to protect the area from the male channelers, and it’s not a bad theory, but it does seem incomplete. The fact that the area of effect is different for wielders of saidin than it is for wielders of saidar suggests that the two effects had to be built into the ter’angreal (or set of ter’angreal, as Sarene mentions that it might be three individual ter’angreal that work together, instead of a single one) separately. If their intention was to protect the area from men driven mad by the taint, why would they also create an area which blocks women from being able to access the True Source as well? If there were one aspect of the Guardian that could block both halves of the One Power, one would expect the radius of the affected area would be the same.

Of course, nothing is certain about the ter’angreal from the age of Legends. Maybe there is a reason that one ter’angreal blocking the True Source for everyone might have different ranges for the different halves of the One Power, perhaps because (presumably) no saidin was used in the creation of the Guardian. Or maybe the Aes Sedai during the Breaking wanted to block saidar as well as saidin, for some reason. We may never find out how it works or why it works, though I would love to know. But an even more interesting question, for me, is why the ter’angreal affects the area the way a stedding does, rather than the way shielding does.

Let us consider for a moment what the One Power actually is, and what channeling actually is. We know that some people have the ability to reach out and access the True Source, from which comes the energy that powers the whole universe, and which humans call the One Power. This is the energy that turns the Wheel of Time, the energy that drives Creation, but it is important to note that it is not Creation itself. The One Power does not make up the Pattern, is not itself the rocks and trees and animals and people. And while channelers consider the flows of the One Power, whether saidar or saidin, to break down further into five elements—Air, Fire, Water, Earth, and Spirit, each of which corresponds to the manipulation of the “element” for which it is named—they are not directly interacting with a rock or the air, but rather using the One Power to affect and control them. The One Power is a tool that can be used to manipulate the physical and the metaphysical, just more incredible and primordial than any tool that can be made by man.

At least, that is how I understand it. The One Power comes from, and is accessed through, the True Source; it is not pulled from the environment around you. Thus, shielding works by putting a barrier between the channeler and the True Source. This barrier is perceptible to anyone who can channel the corresponding half of the One Power from which the shield is made, including the shielded person, and the True Source can still be felt, just not reached.

It’s not hard to imagine a second type of shield, perhaps more all-encompassing and “complete” than what is created by one channeler to block another, which might be strong enough to stop the shielded person from even being able to sense or “see” the True Source at all, but you would expect such a barrier to still be perceptible in some way, especially when you cross it. But channelers entering the area around Far Madding don’t experience a sense of being blocked from the True Source; instead, they feel like it just suddenly isn’t there at all.

There is nothing I currently understand about how the One Power works that quite makes sense of why the stedding are the way they are, both in terms of affecting channeling and in terms of how being away from the stedding affects Ogier. Perhaps there is some kind of metaphysical magnetic field that confuses or closes off the same place inside a channeler that is made empty when they are stilled or gentled, rendering them unable to sense the source in the same way that stilling does, just not permanently? Perhaps the ancient Aes Sedai discovered this quality in the earth or the trees or the stones of the stedding and learned to replicate it. Perhaps the Guardian doesn’t actually affect channeling, only monitors it, as we see it do in chapter 24. No one really understands how the thing works, only that it does, but if it has the capability to point towards channeling, then it must have a range even farther out than the areas in which each half of channeling is blocked.

Shalon believes that it was Jahar who channeled, that he was deliberately sent away from the group to do so in order to facilitate the little act that Verin and Cadsuane put on, and that does seem to be the case. Shalon doesn’t know the Aes Sedai in general and these Aes Sedai in particular well enough to understand the game they’re playing, but the reader does, and I personally loved seeing these two masters of the Great Game working together, and the way that Verin is using her usual “I’m just a scatter-brained Brown” routine in Cadsuane’s favor. I also find myself thinking about how carefully Verin needs to play this, since she also uses that routine to disguise things about herself from everyone, including Cadsuane. We’ll see a little more of Verin in the coming chapters, however, so I’ll come back to the puzzle that is Verin Mathwin next week. And the question of why, exactly, she is claiming to be named Eadwina. I did enjoy the way she got around the Three Oaths by saying “you may call me Eadwina.” Note that she didn’t say her name is Eadwina. The truth you hear, and all that.

I’m also wondering how people born in Far Madding find out that they are channelers. I suppose that the city is not so large that people would be likely to spend their whole lives there without leaving; on the other hand, it’s not part of a larger country anymore, so moving away would require becoming a citizen of another nation. Somehow it makes sense to me that Cadsuane was born there, though I couldn’t say exactly why.

Like the stedding, Far Madding could in theory provide refuge to men born with the spark, but of course it is very difficult for a channeler to live with the pain of being stilled, and remaining in Far Madding would be effectively the same experience as being stilled, just with the added temptation to leave. But I wonder if it could work for a man who had only recently touched the True Source to move there, if the addiction to the One Power wouldn’t be too strong in the beginning. I also wonder if there’s ever been a man born with the spark who lived inside the radius that blocks male channeling, whose life has never been upended by the discovery of his abilities.

If he stayed inside the radius until well into adulthood, what would happen if he suddenly left it? Does he need time/exposure for his ability to manifest itself, or would it suddenly burst forth like the breaking of a dam? It’s interesting to ponder.

I have so much empathy for Shalon and the position she finds herself in. Her relationship with her younger but higher-ranking sister is an interesting one, and it’s nice to see a little of the Sea Folk culture from the inside, rather than the outside. I admit that I’ve been having a little bit of a hard time keeping track of all the various Aes Sedai who are sworn to Rand now, and those following Cadsuane, but Shalon’s general impression of their dynamic was really interesting to read. The fact that she considers their strength-based hierarchy to be silly fits with the opinions of the Kin and the Wise Ones, and indeed, my own, and I was particularly interested in her impression that Verin was only traveling alongside Cadsuane, not crewing Cadsuane’s boat. I think Verin is always in her own boat, pulling alongside with anyone who happens to be traveling in the same direction as her and who she can use to her own ends, while simultaneously making it look like she is serving their ends, either willingly or out of duty, depending. I would have loved to hear the conversation between her and Cadsuane, and to know what Cadsuane thinks of her. There was a brief mention in an earlier Cadsuane section where she seemed to understand Verin a little bit better than some, but she is probably still unaware of much of Verin’s scheming nature. She probably let Cadsuane take the lead on the planning (and indeed, has to defer to her in any case) but I’d be interested to know if she contributed anything to Cadsuane’s plan of manipulating the Counsels.

The fact that Far Madding requires all visitors to either leave their weapons at the bridges or to have them peace-tied feels very in keeping with the fact that it is almost a place that blocks the ability to channel. The One Power is not just a weapon, of course, and Aes Sedai are limited in the ways they can use it as weapon (in the literal, conventional sense, anyway) but one could still argue that, metaphorically, channeler’s abilities are peace tied the same way that the swords are. Furthermore, a channeler’s identity is very much tied to their connection to the One Power, very similarly to the way a swordsman’s is to his blade. Not for every man who carries a sword, of course, but for a soldier or merchant’s guard, or a blademaster, or, say, a man whose title is Swordmaster to a Wavemistress. The Far Madding people may believe that no man needs to defend himself in the city because the Street Guards take care of that, but for someone who lives by the sword, it is no causal matter to cede that protection and sense of identity to someone else. And it is no small matter for a channeler to give up their connection to the True Source, even if they enter Far Madding of their own volition.

Some of the channelers with Cadsuane, of course, aren’t entirely there of their own volition. Shalon has to travel with and obey Harine, and she wasn’t even warned ahead of time that she would undergo such an experience. It’s interesting to watch her feelings change the longer she is inside the area of the Guardian’s effect: At first it doesn’t seem so bad, but the more time passes the more acutely she feels the emptiness, and the more she fears never being able to sense the True Source again. Her discomfiture is so apparent that Harine even recognizes it and treats her with much more sympathy and intimacy than is usual between the sisters—so much so that Shalon even begins to wonder if it would be worth telling Harine the truth about her relationship to Ailil and, presumably, being blackmailed by Cadsuane.

Next week we will learn more about what Cadsuane and Verin are up to, and bear witness to a very interesting conversation between Rand and Alanna. Then Elayne and Egwene will have an interesting meeting in Tel’aran’rhiod, and Elayne deals with some more interesting politics. Among other things. I’ll see you all then for chapters 25 and 26!

Also, Rand’s fight with Rochaid and Kisman was very theatrical, and very cool. I really enjoyed Chapter 22, it might be my favorite chapter in Winter’s Heart so far. icon-paragraph-end

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