Hi! Welcome back to my chapter by chapter re-read and reaction to the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. There will be spoilers through the end of this chapter.
Chapter 19: Shadow’s Waiting
Paving stones broke under horses’ hooves and weeds – mainly old and dead – sprouted through walls and pavement. The city was truly abandoned. Most of the roofs were collapsed. Nevertheless, it was so large as to take Rand’s breath. Every building had huge domes, each shaped differently. Not even the largest building in Baerlon compared with any large building here.
Abruptly Lan stopped at a building and told the party to move the horses inside and to hurry. The boys and Thom bring the horses inside. Rand overhears Nynaeve telling Lan and Moiraine that they need her herbs and Moiraine agrees to take something as long as it helps her to sleep for an hour without waking up groggy.
Rand does not hear more as he walks the horses into a larger room in the back. When the enter the back room, Mat tells the others that he has been thinking about when he spoke the Old Tongue earlier – despite not knowing it. “It’s as if some dead man was speaking with my mouth. I don’t like it.”
Perrin jokes that he thinks Mat would like being a reborn king. Thom advises them to be careful and that talking about the topic is dangerous. He tells them that the dead can be reborn or take a living body. He also tells Mat that Moiraine said “the Old Blood” not a dead man. Thom explains that the words came from his family line. He says he has heard of such a thing, with the Old Blood, but he has never seen it before. Mat continues to be concerned, though, that the Old Blood might mean the trollocs are after him specifically. Thom tells him not to worry about it. He should instead focus on getting out of Shadar Logoth alive.
Rand tells Mat that they are all in the situation together. Mat then suggests that they look around the city. The boys reason that Aridhol must have been the greatest city in the world during the Trolloc Wars if trollocs still fear to enter it. They were not afraid to enter Manetheren. When Perrin suggests that they ask Moiraine first, Mat scoffs and says that she will not allow them out of her sight. Perrin and Rand reluctantly agree with Mat and they sneak out of the room through a back door into an alleyway. Then they creep down the street.
The boys explore the city until they tire. They remember that they only slept for an hour the night before. The sun is low in the sky. Rand suggests that they go back and get some sleep. Mat resists the suggestion and says that he wants to climb a tower that appears to be whole.
Suddenly they hear a man’s voice behind them. He tells them that the towers are not safe. He tells them that his name is Mordeth. He pauses expecting them to recognize the name. They tell him they are on the way to Caemlyn and only stopping here for the night. He repeats the name of the city as if unfamiliar. Mordeth tells the boys that he is a treasure hunter. He tells them he has found treasure and that he cannot carry it all out of the city. He suggests that they help him in exchange for a share of it. Mat leaps at the opportunity and darts inside to help him. Rand and Perrin follow reluctantly.
We can’t leave him.
Rand believes there is something odd about Mordeth. He is sleek, somewhat overfed, with drooping eye lids. He is completely bald and his clothes are like nothing Rand has ever seen before. Abruptly, the four men arrive to a room filled waist high with gold and gems.
The boys say that since it it late, they will need to return to the others. They believe that Moiraine and Lan will understand their absence when they learn about the treasure. Mordeth asks the boys about their companions and Mat, absentmindedly, lists them off and then tells him they are traveling to Tar Valon.
Suddenly Mordeth’s face is twisted with rage. He tells them that they lied to him. They apologize and say that they can still come back and help him tomorrow. Mordeth seems to struggle within himself. He tells them to take what they want, except…except..
Suddenly Rand realized what had been nagging at him about the man. The scattered torches in the hallway had given each of them a ring of shadows just as the torches in the treasure room did. Only… he was so shocked he said it out loud.
“You don’t have a shadow.”
Mordeth says, “so it it decided.” He swells in size and reaches out to them with hands large enough to engulf a man’s head. Abruptly, someone screams. Rand is not sure which of them did the screaming. He sees Mordeth wailing in the corner. He tells them they are all dead. he leaps, his body stretches until it is the width of a finger, and then he disappears through a wall tile. “You are all dead.”
Mat still wants to take the treasure but Rand and Perrin drag him out. The torches begin to wink out. Mat stops struggling and the three boys begin running. They finally get to the street. Less than half of the sun shines on the roof tops. They feel something watching them from all directions. The boys stay in the middle of the street and continue to feel eyes on them. Rand does not know which is worse – thousands of eyes or a few that are following them. The boys finally arrive back at the building with the rest of their party and when they go inside the feeling of the eyes vanishes. Everyone but land is inside.
Egwene seems relieved to see them. Thom mutters that they are fools. Nynaeve tells them that they will deserve a pounding from Lan when he returns. Moiraine reasons that something must have happened or they would not have rushed back. The three boys babbled out the story somewhat incoherently and not in order. However, when Rand says the name Mordeth, Moraine hisses and grabs Rand by the elbow.
Did he touch you? Did he give you anything or did you do anything for him?
The boys tells her that they did not. Mat mutters that Moiraine had told them this place was safe. She tells them that anyone who thinks would be wary of a place that trollocs are afraid to enter. Going on, she tells them that late in the Trolloc Wars, an army of shadow spawn camped inside the abandoned city’s walls. They never came out Scouts entered the city and found weapons, armor, and blood smeared on the city walls with messages calling on the Dark One for aid. When scouts returned again later, all evidence that the shadow spawn army had ever been inside the city had been scoured. As a result, myrddraal and trolls still remember to this day and fear to enter the city.
Moiraine tells them that she has placed “wards” around the building they are staying in that will protect them from what lies inside Shadar Logoth. In the morning, she says, they will be safe to leave the city because what resides in Shadar Logoth does not like sunlight.
She then gives a history lesson about Aridhol. In the days when Thorin al Toren al Ban was King of Manetheren, the King of Aridhol was Balwen Mayel, also known as Balwen Ironhand. During the Trolloc Wars, a man named Mordeth came to Balwen’s court. Soon he was second only to the King. Then Aridhol began to change. It hardened. She says that it was said some would rather see Trollocs than the men of Aridhol.
The victory of the Light is all. That was the battlecry Mordeth gave them and the men of Aridhol shouted it while their deeds abandoned the Light. […] Suspicion and hate had given birth to something that fed on that which created it. Something locked in the bedrock where the city stood. Mashadar waits still, hungering. Men spoke of Aridhol no more. They named it Shadar Logoth – the place where the Shadow waits.
She says that Mordeth alone was not consumed by Mashadar but he was also trapped inside the city’s walls where he still waits. If anyone ever enters the city, and accompanies him to the city’s walls, he can consume the soul of that person at the walls and walk out wearing the person’s body.
Nynaeve worries for Lan who is outside in the dark. Moiraine tells her that he will be well. She says that Lan was pledged to fight the dark one from the cradle with a sword placed in his infant hands. She also says that she will know instantly if something happens to him, just as he will know instantly if something has happened to her.
The group sleeps. Rand wakes suddenly while everyone else sleeps. He does not know what has awakened him. A few moments later Lan enters the building and drops three trolloc badges on the floor. He tells her they will be at their building in an hour. He tells her that there are over 100 trollocs in their group and that they are all terrified of anything that moves.
The myrddraal forced the trollocs into the city. What forced the myrddraal?
Moiraine tells them that they need to leave the city in the night. Fighting the trollocs will mean losing the wards that protect them against what lives within the city. In addition, fighting the trollocs will also let every myrddraal within twenty miles know where they are hiding. Once out of the city, Moiraine wants to create a ward to hold back the trollocs and then cross the River Arinelle on rafts. She says she was too tired to carry out that plan before going into the city to rest. Lan explains that trollocs and myrddraal will not cross the river and that neither can swim.
The party prepares to flee.
Even though it was cool to read, I completely understand Mat’s apprehension about speaking a dead language. That would be bad enough without the accompanying thought that this ability might be why the Dark One is after him.
So maybe Mat’s desire to explore the city is some form of stress-induced insanity? Yeah. Let’s go with that. From Mat’s perspective, he is fleeing with one kind of monster (Moiraine) to hide from a whole group of even worse monsters (the myrddraal, trollocs, and whatever is causing him nightmares.) I guess Rand and Perrin are feeling some of that, too.
Does it make sense that Mat would run into a building with a total stranger (a strangely dressed stranger at that) because he asked for help with carrying treasure? No, not really. This part of the plot felt like Mat needed to be a little bit dumb to move the story forward.
HOWEVER. Let’s be clear. This is as much on Moiraine and Lan as on the boys. They could have made a point of telling them that the city is profoundly dangerous. They did not. Something like this would have taken ten seconds.
M: Stay here. This city is dangerous.
M: There is an evil force here as bad or worse than the trollocs. It is a ghost that prowls the city looking to eat human souls.
Boys: Alright then. We’ll stay here.
Looking back at the chapter, Thom gives them a hint about this. He tells them that undead men sometimes try to take the body of a living man. Then we see an attempt at just that a few pages later.
Mordeth is a really interesting figure. He appears at the court of Aridhol. Was he not from there? We do not know. How did he possess a power that kept him from dying with the rest of his city? We do not know. What even is the power that turned an entire city into forces of the Light that are as evil as the Shadow? We do not know. Why did he scream, cry, and run away after getting close to touching the boys? We do not know. Did Moiraine mark them in some way? Did Ba’alzamon do something to them in their dreams? That scene was very odd.
Mordeth is another Arthurian name. His name appears to be borrowed from Sir Mordred and then tweaked. Like Mordred, he was initially regarded as a hero in the early tales. Like Mordred, he seems to possess some type of dark magical abilities.
Aridhol sounds to me like Arid Hall. Empty Hall. Empty City. It’s descriptive of the place into which it became. And of course Shadar Logoth just sounds like a place you would not want to visit. Side note: Shadar Logoth is also apparently the name of a death metal band based in Moscow.
I enjoy the peeks into the history of Randland. The Second Covenant and the Compact of the Ten Nations sounds like great source material for additional novels. Sadly, Robert Jordan is no longer with us so we might never see those novels.