Spoilers for books 1-12 and Towers of Midnight to ch.49| More info and previous posts |Please no spoilers for future books/events
In my plan to read The Wheel of Time, and post about my experience, I’m now on book 13, Towers of Midnight. This post covers chapter 39-49.
In the Three-Fold Land
An Aviendha POV. Yay! I don’t know why I keep getting so excited whenever there’s an Aviendha POV, but I do.
She’s in the dry, hot, deadly, murderous Aiel waste and so finally she can relax. As she runs to Rhuidean, Aviendha ponders the future of the Aiel. She thinks that they should return to the Waste once all this is over, because the Wetlands are making them weak. I am fine either way – the Aiel are pretty well adapted to the Waste, plus the people of the wetlands sure will be happy to see the back of this huge super badass force. On the other hand, living in a desert just for the sake of it seems weird. But then, Aiel are nothing if not weird.
As she sets up camp for the night, she is approached by a random woman, calling herself Nakomi, who asks for water and shade, which Aviendha gives. But I get the vibe that this is not some normal woman – it feels like the mysterious wise monk that the hero stumbles upon in his journeys, complete with her evading any questions about where she’s from and where she’s going.
She raises some interesting points about the future of the Aiel – since their stay in the Waste was a way of preparing themselves and meeting toh, doesn’t it mean there’s no more reason to stay here? What is the point of being hard just for the sake of it? Planting these seeds of doubt in Aviendha’s mind, she vanishes as abruptly as she appeared.
Personally, I think the likeliest outcome is that the Aiel will split up. Whatever remains of them, some will have adapted to the wetlands and want to stay there, and some will want to return to the simpler though harsher Waste.
In Whitebridge, Perrin is still sad. Yes, he managed to escape the trap, but he lost Hopper and Oakdancer, and Slayer still got away with killing all those wolves. Plus he’s still uneasy because he doesn’t know what he escaped from. Out of the blue, he asks for a map of the Jehannah road. He seems to realise something – I have no idea what, and sends one of the Asha’man to check on the Whitecloaks.
And then, as he is wont to do, Perrin gets busy doing random stuff, this time making horseshoes, letting his body go on autopilot while he thinks stuff over. But it’s not enough. He wants to do something more, something a bit creative. And so he gets started making something else, with Neald helping him with heating the metal. But whatever it is, it’s something momentous. Neald has to ask for a circle to keep up the heating.
And as he makes the thing, he realises that he’s not a simple blacksmith. He realises that he wants to lead, to make sure that it’s done right. All things that he’s been working towards for this whole book, learning to accept the changes in him and around him. Finally, it is done, just as his forging is done – a hammer. But not a simple blacksmith’s hammer:
On the anvil—still glowing with an inner heat—was a beautiful hammer. A work beyond anything he’d ever created, or thought that he might create. It had a thick, powerful head, like a maul or sledge, but the back was formed cross-face and flattened. Like a blacksmith’s tool. It was four feet from bottom to top, maybe longer, an enormous size for a hammer of this type.
Good thing Perrin is buff as hell. Then he has the men take the wolfhead hammer back out and displayed proudly, and proclaims his acceptance of his position as their leader.
Perrin names the hammer Mah’alleinir, which means “He Who Soars” in the Old Tongue, after Hopper. No doubt it’s just a coincidence that it sounds a lot like Mjollnir. Which, by the way is what I’m going to be calling it, because the actual name is a chore to spell.
Sulin reports that the Whitecloaks have set up camp near a superb ambush spot, and Perrin has Asha’man make gateways to move the army there.
Berelain and Faile talk. Turns out Mjollnir is indeed more than a normal hammer – it’s a power wrought weapon. From what I’ve seen of power wrought weapons, they’re basically an indestructible super resistant version of normal weapons. Which is nice for swords since they’re always super sharp, but I don’t see that making much of a difference for a hammer which anyway relies on blunt force. Unless it makes the hammer shoot lightning and stuff, because that would be cool.
Berelain also fears that Perrin is going to ambush the Whitecloaks, but I’m damn sure that’s not the case. And Faile tells her so. Then Berelain reveals that the reason she pursued Perrin is because she thought Rand had promised him to her back in Tear. Nonsense. Classic case of overanalysing stuff.
Galad’s men spot Perrin’s army arriving on the nearby hill, and assume that it’s a trap for them. I don’t blame them. Perrin seems to be anticipating some sort of attack on the Whitecloaks, which is why he’s here – to save them. But would it be too much to send a messenger to warn them as well?
And then the trap springs. Thousands of Trollocs and Myrddraal rush towards Galad’s camp, but Perrin is ready for them. The battle begins, as Perrin attack the Trollocs from above while Galad tries desperately to defend. Faile asks Perrin what I’ve been wondering all this while – how did he know?
“It made sense,” Perrin said. “That dome was meant to keep us from fleeing by gateway. But it was also to encourage us along the road, to keep us from Traveling directly to Andor. It seemed odd to us that Master Gill would turn along the road, disobeying orders—but it happened because he was convinced by people coming from the north that the way was impassible. Plants by our enemies, I suspect, to lure us this direction.
“We were being herded all along. They weren’t waiting for us to engage the Whitecloaks, they were waiting for us to make for Lugard as fast as we could. If we’d tried to go cross-country, I’ll bet something would have happened to turn us back. They desperately wanted us to walk into their ambush. Galad’s force probably wasn’t part of it—he was a burr that got under their saddle.”
As far as explanations go, it feels a little weak, but I’ll let it pass.
The battle goes well enough for Perrin, since he has the advantage of terrain and channelers, but the Whitecloaks are in trouble. They’re not a hardened army, and they have little experience fighting Trollocs. Realising this, Perrin decides to go on the offensive, leading a charge downhill into the Trollocs. That turns the tide of the battle, and the Trollocs start retreating.
Byar though, crazy bastard that he is, decides to go ahead and try to kill the guy who just saved all their asses. But Bornhald saves Perrin by killing him instead. It appears all of Perrin’s arguments during the trial at least convinced him that Perrin didn’t kill his dad.
Stronger than Blood
An exhausted but Healed Gawyn discusses the events of the night with Egwene. Mesaana’s identity is revealed, but it’s nothing special – just a random Brown. Makes sense. The two also finalise the patching up of their relationship. Gawyn wants to get married ASAP, but like a good Two Rivers girl, Egwene wants her parents to be there. Gawyn also pockets the ter’angreal the Bloodknives were using. I have a feeling those will be plot relevant later.
Passing through the border between Arafel and Kandor, Lan intends to ignore the crowd of Malkieri waiting for him and ride on in disguise, but he is recognised by the prince of Kandor, who is there on the invitation of Prince Kendral, who I remember from New Spring. And Lan finally gives up his charade:
And then, with a deep sigh, he gave in. “The Golden Crane flies for Tarmon Gai’don,” Lan said softly. “Let any man or woman who wishes to follow join it and fight.”
He closed his eyes as the call went up. It soon became a cheer. Then a roar.
Pretty heartwarming and all, but unless Rand sends help, I’m afraid they’re in for a lot of unpleasantness.
In the aftermath of the battle with the Trollocs, Perrin and Galad are chatting. Galad seems to have become almost convinced that Perrin is not a cunning Darkfriend but just a simple and straightforward fellow. Perrin offers to let him and his Whitecloaks join his army for the Last Battle, under the condition that they swear to accept him as their commander. And Galad agrees. That’s what I like about him. Once he realises he was wrong, there’s no stupid stubbornness or anything, he just accepts it and changes accordingly.
That done, Galad and Berelain have a hilarious chat:
“Would you like some tea?” Damodred said, speaking a little abruptly as he reached for the teacups, which sat on a cloth away from the fire.
“I’m drinking some,” she noted.
“Some more then?” he asked, hastily kneeling and pouring a cup.
He stood up, holding the cup, then seeing that she already had one in her hands.
“There are still bandages to cut,” Berelain said. “Perhaps you could help.”
“Perhaps,” he said. He handed the cup he’d poured over to Alliandre. Berelain—her eyes still holding his—handed hers over as well, seeming oblivious to what she was doing.
Alliandre smiled deeply—now holding three teacups—as the two of them walked over to the stack of cloths to be cut.
Ah, the awkward joys of a fresh love.
A Backhanded Request
In Whitebridge, Morgase finally decides to quit playing servant, and return to Caemlyn. Tallanvor comes to meet with her, and there is much lofty talk of duty vs. love, and much anguish over their differing stations, but eventually they decide to screw propriety and duty and get married. Yay! It seems people are making up all over the place. So they go to Perrin and get married in a suitably charmingly simple ceremony.
And then Mat comes to meet him, in typical Mat fashion:
A hand suddenly jutted out from behind the trunk, holding a brown sack. “I caught a badger,” a familiar voice said. “Want to let it go on the village green?”
But there’s more than whimsy behind his sudden and secretive arrival. He warns Perrin about them being hunted, and asks Perrin to meet him when he comes to Caemlyn. And then he leaves. Well, that was abrupt.
Elayne and Dyelin discuss how to approach her taking the Sun Throne. I’m going to skip all of it because I’m still recovering from the drawn out Andoran succession and have no patience for the Cairhienin and their stupid Daes Dae’mar.
The meeting is interrupted by Galad, and Morgase. Elayne’s reaction is as expected but still satisfying to see, waiting as I have been for it for the past seven books or so. There is many surprises and rejoicing. The only thing that irks me is that they have to consider even this from a Queen POV, discussing how to handle Morgase so that she gets something to do but isn’t seen undermining Elayne’s authority.
Aviendha has arrived at Rhuidean. She does some more contemplation, this time thinking about Rhuidean’s role in the Aiel’s future. Yes, it was sacred and super important, but now that everyone knows about the things the glass columns revealed to prospective clan chiefs as a test, there’s not much point to the ritual, is there?
Finally she decides that clinging to traditions just for the hell of it is stupid, and decides that once all this is done, the Aiel will have to reevaluate their way of life.
A POV from a guy called Androl making something with leather. By the by it is revealed that he’s one of the Asha’man at the Black Tower, though something of an outcast owing to his low strength in the Power. He’s part of a shrinking group of people who are not Taim’s bitches, and life for them in the Black Tower is not good. He and some of his friends decide that there’s something shady going on in the White Tower with Taim at the centre of it, and decide to investigate. I don’t have much to comment – this seems to be an introductory chapter for what seems like a new plot thread ( a bit late to be adding those!), except that Androl seems like a nice guy.
A Teaching Chamber
Perrin arrives with an impressive procession to meet Elayne. It feels weird to me that the two of them are basically strangers – they haven’t ever been on a quest together or anything, just met at the few points where the story brings everyone together. But I know them both really well and like them, so I kind of want them to be great buddies and all, and get along well.
Instead, we get a meeting full of formality and posturing. Mostly from Elayne. Or as Mat put it, Her Royal bloody Majesty Queen Elayne the prim. After Elayne publicly thanks Perrin for rescuing her mom, they move into a private meeting to discuss Perrin’s “rebellion”. Said rebellion, as Perrin points out, happened mostly because when Trollocs attacked the Two Rivers, it was up to them to defend themselves.
Elayne gets all huffy and puffy over Perrin not bowing and scraping to her (I’m a bit annoyed at her right now) but then Morgase steps in:
“Please forgive me if I overstep myself,” Morgase continued. “But Elayne, I promised these two that I would speak for them. I told you I would. Andor is strong, but I fear it could break itself against this man. He does not want your throne, I promise it, and the Two Rivers does need supervision. Would it be such a terrible thing to let them have the man they themselves have chosen?”
Elayne sees sense, and after a bit of haggling, they decide to give the Two Rivers to Rand, with Perrin as the Steward in his absence. I really like this solution. It takes care of the Andoran nobles grumbling about Perrin being raised, and doesn’t make it look like Elayne is giving in to Perrin’s “rebellion”.
Tuon is presented with Suffa a.k.a Elaida. Who demonstrates Traveling to them. Fuck! I was so busy gloating over Elaida’s fate that I totally forgot about this ramification of her chapter. And in typical Seanchan fashion, Tuon is going to use this for one thing – war:
We will need to strike soon, Selucia signed.
Yes, Fortuona signed back. Our previous attack will have them gathering arms.
Our next move will have to be decisive, then, Selucia signed. But think. Delivering thousands of soldiers into the White Tower through a hidden basement room. Striking with the force of a thousand hammers against a thousand anvils!
The White Tower was doomed.
It seems stupid Elaida is not done wrecking the Tower. Damnit!
Perrin and Mat have a chat in an inn – this one is more like what I expected when Mat appeared in Whitebridge. They exchange stories, and Mat asks Perrin to lend him an Asha’man for Traveling to the Tower of Ghenjei. Perrin agrees. Get hype!
Aviendha emerges from her journey through the glass columns. It was, as expected, what she expected. She realises the whole thing is kind of pointless now:
Passing through the glass columns was no longer a challenge. Originally, this ter’angreal had provided a test. Could the potential leader face and accept the Aiel’s darkest secret? As a Maiden, Aviendha had been tested in body and strength. Becoming a Wise One tested a person emotionally and mentally. Rhuidean was to be the capstone of that process, the final test of mental endurance. But that test was gone now.
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.
So far, Aviendha’s trip has been going precisely as I anticipated, but now there’s something new. Aviendha tries to apply her Talent at understanding ter’angreal to the columns, but they’re beyond her comprehension. She gives up, but her next step seems to take her into another memory, distinct from the ones that the columns usually show.
First is Malidra, a scrawny, hungry, teenage girl, trying to sneak into a camp to get some trash to eat. A pretty sorry situation all together. But when is it from? I would guess even further back, evidenced by the advanced tech the memory mentioned. But they also mention Aiel. So is this the Aiel even before they were the non-violent servants of the Aes Sedai?
Aviendha of course is horrified to consider that the Aiel might have come from such people, but it’s mostly rooted in her obsession with honor. But isn’t there also honor in the fact that they rose from such low lives to what they are now? Aviendha decides to make another trip into the columns to find out more.
This time, she is Norlesh, the wife of a man trying to sell ores to the well off people in return for some food. But no use, they won’t trade with him because it is forbidden. Interestingly, by the Raven Empress. They return desperate and broken. She finds that her baby is dead, but can’t summon any sorrow at his death.
She is a fourteen-year-old girl, Tava, reeling from an attack on her camp by their enemies. I’m a bit confused by mentions of things such as ji’e’toh, and Stone Dogs, and a prejudice against using swords.
Until the memory ends and Aviendha realises the horrible, horrible fact that she’s not seeing ever further into the past – she’s seeing the future. Oh god. The Aiel – brought to this? How? Why? And now the memories make sense, a kind of sickening narrative of the destruction of the Aiel culture. This is when they still remember vestiges of their ways, but soon it will come to Narlesh, desperately begging for food, and then to Malidra, when the Aiel are no better than starved vermin. How?
We got further back into the future, that is, a future ever closer to the present. The memory is of Ladalin, a Wise One. The Aiel still have their identity, but they are a defeated people. Defeated and beaten, by the Seanchan. So they did tree to free the Wise Ones the Seanchan had made damane. And this is the result. In fact, the Seanchan have apparently defeated everyone – Ladalin receives news that the White Tower has fallen. It’s no surprise – the Aes Sedai were never going to be able to match the damane for sheer destructiveness, bound as they were by their oaths.
It seems Rand had wanted peace, but the Aiel decided not to listen to him. They’ve fought a long and brutal war, but they’ve lost. The Seanchan have promised to hunt and destroy them. Which they do, as we saw. But for now the Aiel decide to withdraw into the Waste, hoping, wrongly, that they will be safe there.
Closer to the present. Oncala, a Maiden of the Spear. The war is not yet lost, and they come to Caemlyn to ask for Andor’s help. Said help, like Ladalin mentioned, will lead to them actually losing the battle thanks to the Seanchan taking even more channelers captive. But Oncala just wants help against the Seanchan. She shows the Queen documents recovered from a recent raid, documents that lay out plans of attack against all the nations of the world. Plans to assassinate the Queen.
What she leaves out is that these are contingency plans, to be used if the countries attack first. Which they will, thanks to her.
This one is the worst for Aviendha so far. She knows from the memory that Oncala is in fact her own grand-daughter. Her descendants, using such dishonorable methods, that in turn lead to the total ruin of the Aiel.
And finally, she is Padra, daughter of Rand and Aviendha. She is special, able to channel and make weaves since birth. She and her siblings are like that. They even hold on to the Source all the time, even while sleeping. That’s weird.
She goes to a big meeting where the future of the Aiel is discussed. Rand created a peace treaty of sorts, but left the Aiel out of it for some reason. They have grown restless with nothing to do, no one to fight. A side effect I guess, of being a people focused almost entirely around honor and fighting. They can handle enemies, but not peace. The Seanchan have continued to return their channelers.
Oh Tuon. I thought you would be better than this. I hoped your days with Mat and the Aes Sedai, the fact that even sul’dam can channel, would convince you to put a stop to this horrible damane system. But no. For what it’s worth, they mention that an understanding had almost been reached with her. But it just didn’t work out. And so now, the Aiel decide to go to war.
A war that will see them defeated, broken, stripped of honor and dignity, reduced to hiding in the shadows looking for scraps of trash to steal.
And that’s it, mercifully. Aviendha asks for more, asks whether she can change this future, but the columns remain silent.
Oh boy, that was quite the scene. It goes without saying how horrible a fate it is, how sad it makes me to think of the Aiel destroyed like this. It reminds me of the time we first went through the columns, seeing the journey of the Aiel from their non-violent days before the breaking to their present. That one had sad parts too, but there was redemption. The Aiel met their toh by following Rand when he came. But to just fade away like this?
It’s really remarkable how much of a punch this sequence has. I’d say it was even more impactful in terms of sheer emotions than the original Rhuidean flashbacks. That, for me, was more about worldbuilding, with the admittedly genius twist of showing the history rather than being told in an infodump. But to become fond of the Aiel their quirky ways, and then to see this, in the same graphic detail? Quite the sucker punch.
The question, of course, is whether this is fixed or changeable? And changeable in a big way. What if it’s like one of those stories where they try to change things but end up with the same result regardless, only through a different path? As if I wasn’t worried enough about the Last Battle, now there’s this to worry about even after that!
Oh yeah, there’s also Perrin to talk about. A lot of you seem to have been looking forward to me getting to the scene where he forges Mjollnir. Well, I’m afraid, like the rest of Perrin’s story, it just didn’t click for me. It was a good, well-written scene, but it just wasn’t on the same level as this devastating tale from the Aiel’s future.
With this post, we’re almost finished with Towers of Midnight – just one final post to go. I was kinda thinking of finishing the book in this one, but those Aviendha chatpers man. I just had to sit back and pick up my jaw from the floor. But expect to see the last post tomorrow, or day after at the latest.