The Great Hunt (Chapter 16): In the Mirror of Darkness

Welcome back to my re-read, recap, and reaction to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. This post will only have spoilers through the current chapter.

You can find my previous chapter recaps HERE.

Chapter 16: In the Mirror of Darkness 

Rand wakes the others at just before daybreak. Hurin tells him that he should not have stayed awake during the night. Nothing shows that the fog had ever been, or Ba’alzamon. Rand tells Hurin that he stayed awake because he needed to think. He fingers the kerchief tied around his right hand. The brand on his hand proves Ba’alzamon had been there. Rand says that it’s time to get into the saddle and says that they can eat while they ride.

Loial stretches and notices Rand’s hand. He asks what happened. Rand replies that it’s nothing and Loial replies that he has a salve in his saddlebags. Rand replies again that it’s nothing in a tone that is too harsh. However, he knows one look at the brand on his hand would raise questions he does not want to answer.

As they ride, Rand concentrates on the ground looking for tracks. He finds nothing whatsoever. He looks at the ground behind them and sees their own tracks to assure himself that the ground takes hoofprints. Ahead, though, the ground is undisturbed. Hurin says he can smell the trail, though, so they ride on. After not more than an hour of riding, Rand sees a spire up ahead. He wonders aloud what that is. Loial does not know.

Hurin replies awkwardly that if this was their own world, the monument to Artur Hawkwing that Ingtar mentioned was a great spire. He says though that in the real world, the monument was torn down. Loial notes that the spire, according to Ingtar, is still three or four days ahead of them. Hurin points out that there are no people in this world and yet there is a built spire ahead of them anyway. He suggests that they keep clear of it. Rand replies that they need to stick as close to the trail as possible. He offers though that if they see people or anything out of the ordinary that they could circle around it and attempt to re-find the trail after. Rand realizes that he has to give the order to Hurin, to take the trail, because Hurin believes him to be a Lord. Rand gives the order and Hurin is relieved to be given the order.

Not long after, they were within a mile of the spire. Rand can see the mound it is built on. The spire is 100 spans high and at its top is a bird with outstretched wings. Rand says aloud that it is a hawk and tells everyone that the spire is Hawkwing’s monument. Rand suggests that the gallop the rest of the way. Loial tries to tell Rand that something is not what Rand believes it is but Rand does not wait to hear and gallops ahead anyway. Loial calls after them, from behind, but Rand continues on.

The gray spire rears into the sky. Rand’s laughter dies and his face becomes grim as he pulls up Red, his horse. Hurin asks Rand uneasily if that is Hawkwing’s monument. The Sniffer states that it does not look right. Rand recognizes the harsh angular script that covers the face of the monument – he also recognizes some of the trolloc symbols of individual bands carved onto the monument. A hawk is carved at the bottom of the spire. It has a wingspan of ten paces and it lays on its back, pierced by a lightning bolt. Ravens peck at its eyes. Loial catches up.

Loial: I tried to tell you Rand. It is a raven, not a hawk.

Rand wonders aloud how this could be and states that Artur Hawkwing won a victory over the trollocs here. Loial replies that he did not win here.

Loial: From stone to stone run the lines of it, between the worlds that might be. I have been thinking on it and I believe I know what the worlds that might be are. Maybe I do. Worlds our world might have been if things had happened differently.

Loial suggests that the reason the place where they are is so washed out looking is because it is an if, a maybe, a shadow of the real world. Loial speculates that in this world, Hawkwing lost to the trollocs. Rand thinks that trollocs winning would explain the lack of peole, but he says that if they had won, they would be everywhere, and their group would have seen thousands of them by now. Loial replies, though, that perhaps after they killed off humanity they then killed off themselves.

Abruptly, Hurin tells Rand that he saw something move down below, back in the direction that they had come. The Sniffer replies that he thought he saw a woman about a mile behind them. He apologizes and says he probably just imagined it. Loial says that they have something else to consider and he points toward the south. Rand asks Loial what the Ogier wants him to see and Loial points out that the mountains in the distance must be Kinslayer’s Dagger. Loial points out that Kinslayer’s Dagger lies more than one hundred leagues south of the Erinin and he says he believes they will reach the mountains before dark. Rand understands. In the normal world, they could not have covered over one hundred leagues in less than three days.

Rand mutters that maybe the place where they are is like The Ways. Loial replies, with a question, wondering if a misstep here can kill them or if there are things in the place where they are now that can do worse than kill them. Hurin moans. Rand states that it is too late to worry about what they have already done but he suggests that from here on they watch their step. Rand glances at Hurin and encourages him.

Just then they hear a scream, thin with distance. Hurin says it is a woman’s scream. She screams again more desperate than the first. Rand says it cannot be the same woman because the scream is south of them. Rand kicks Red to a run. Loial shouts at him to be careful. On the edge of another stream, Rand brings Red to a halt. He sees the woman and her horse, in the stream, backed against the far bank. With a broken length of branch, she fends off a creature that Rand has never seen before. Rand swallows and thinks that if a frog were as big as a bear, or if a bear had a frog’s gray-green hide, it might look something like this. Rand leaps to the ground and unlimbers his bow. His bandaged hand makes drawing the bow awkward but he looses and arrow almost before his feet are set. The shaft sinks into its hide and it turns to face Rand. It’s huge wedge shaped head has never been on any animal that he can imagine. It has a wide beak of a mouth hooked for tearing at flesh. It also has three eyes, small and fierce. It bounds toward Rand.

The woman, sounding surprisingly calm, tells Rand that he must hit an eye to kill it. Rand draws another arrow, seeks the Void, and he looses an arrow and hits the creature’s central eye. It lands. Ripples spread from it but it does not move.

The woman calls to Rand that it was well shot, and bravely. She is on her horse riding to meet him. She rides past the creature without a downward glance, up the bank, and she dismounts. She tells Rand that few men would stand the face the charge of a grolm. The woman is dressed all in white, with a belt and boots hemmed in silver – even her saddle is white and silver mounted. The woman herself is what holds Rand’s eyes. She is tall, about Nynaeve’s age, and beautiful. She has ivory skin with long night dark hair and dark eyes. Rand thinks to himself that he has seen beautiful women before, but with this woman, his tongue sticks to the roof of his mouth. He feels his heart begin beating again.

She asks Rand if these are his retainers. Rand, startled, looks around to find Loial and Hurin. He tells her that they are his friends and he introduces them before telling her that his own name is Rand al’Thor. Abruptly, Loial says to her that if there is such a thing as perfect human beauty in face and form… bur Rand cuts him off. The Ogier and Rand are both embarrassed. She laughs for a moment but an instant later she is all regal formality like a Queen on her throne.

The woman introduces herself as Selene.

Selene: You have risked your life and saved mine. I am yours, Lord Rand al’Thor.

To Rand’s horror, she kneels before him. Rand hastily pulls her to her feet.

Rand: A man who will not die to save a woman is no man.

However, Rand disgraces himself immediately after saying this by blushing. It was a Shienaran saying and he knew it sounded pompous as soon as it came out of his mouth. However, her manner infected him and he could not stop himself. He stumbles around before telling her that it was his honor. He hopes it will do.

Suddenly Rand is aware of her eyes on him. Her expression did not change but her dark eyes makes him feel as though he is naked. Unbidden, the thought of her with no clothes comes to him also and Rand’s face goes red again. Rand struggles to talk and finally manages to ask her where she is from. He says that they have not seen another human being since they came to this world. Selene looks at Rand thoughtfully. She tells him that she is not from this world. She says there is nothing at all living in this world except for the grolm and a few other creatures like them. She tells him that she is from Cairhien and that she is not exactly certain how she came to be in this world. She tells Rand that she was riding out and that she stopped to nap. She says that when she awoke both she and her horse were in this place. Selene tells Rand that she can only hope he saves her again and helps her to go home.

Rand asks her to call him Rand, instead of ‘my Lord.’ She asks again if he will help her and he says that of course he will. He tells Selene that first they must find the men they are following. Rand tells Selene that he will try to keep her out of danger but he says that they must find them. He says that her coming with them will be better than her staying in this place alone. Selene studies Rand and says that he is a man of duty. A small smile touches her lips and she says that she likes that. She asks Rand about the men they are following and Hurin bursts out that they are trollocs and Darkfriends. He bows to her from his saddle.

Hurin: They did murder in Fal Dara Keep and stole the Horn of Valere but Lord Rand will fetch it back.

Rand thinks to himself, “so much for secrecy.” Rand asks her not to say anything to anyone about the Horn of Valere once they leave this world. She says that it would never do for the Horn to fall into the wrong hands. Selene tells Rand that she cannot say how often she has dreamed of holding the Horn in her hands.

Selene: You must promise me when you have it that you will let me touch it.

Rand says that before he can do that, they must first find it. He holds her hand to help her mount and Hurin scrambles down to hold her stirrup. Selene’s hand is firm and her grip is surprisingly strong. However, Rand notices that her skin feels like silk. Rand scrambles onto Red and wonders to himself how anyone’s skin could be so soft. Rand asks Hurin where the trail is. Hurin tells him that it is still south and Rand orders him to take the trail.

As they ride, she tells Rand that he will be a man for the legends once he finds the Horn. She says that the man who sounds the Horn will make his own legends. Rand tells her that he does not want to sound the Horn or be part of any legends. As they talk, Rand notices how Selene smells. He cannot tell if it is perfume but it fills his head with her. She replies that every man wants to be great and she says that Rand could be the greatest man in all the ages. Rand replies again that he just wants to find the Horn and to help a friend.

Suddenly she notices that Rand has injured his hand. It throbs and he moves to put it inside his coat. However, before he can she reaches out and takes it. He is so surprised that he lets her. Her touch feels cool and sure. He palm feels red and puffy. She touches the brand with a finger and makes no comment on it. She does not even ask how he came by the injury. She tells him that she has an ointment that can help. She produces a vial from a pocket on her cloak, unstops it, and begins rubbing a white salve on the burn as they ride. The ointment feels old at first then it seems to melt away warmly into his flesh. It works as well as Nynaeve’s ointments sometimes do. He stares in amazement and the redness fades and the swelling goes down under her stroking fingers.

As she rubs the ointment on, she tells Rand that some men choose to seek greatness while others are forced to it. She says it is better to choose than to be forced because a man who is forced is never completely his own master. She says he must dance on the strings of those who forced him. Rand pulls his hand free. The brand looks a week old, or more, all but healed. Rand asks her what she means and she says, surprised, she means the Horn. She says that if he finds it, there will be no avoiding greatness.

Selene: Will it be forced on you or will you take it?

Rand flexes his hand and he thinks to himself that Selene sounds like Moiraine. Abruptly, he asks her if she is Aes Sedai. Her eyebrows lift but her voice remains soft. She says she is not. Rand apologizes and says he did not mean to offend her.

Selene: Offend me? I’m not offended. But I am no Aes Sedai. [Her lip curls in a sneer]

Rand thinks to himself that even her sneer is beautiful. Selene goes on, saying that Aes Sedai cower in what they believe to be safety when they could do so much. She says they serve when they could rule. She says that they let men fight wars when they could bring order to the world.

Selene: No, never call me Aes Sedai. [She smiles and puts her hand on his arm to let him know she is not angry.]

Her touch makes Rand swallow and he is relieved when she drops her mare back to ride beside Loial. Rand is relieved but he also misses her presence. He settles back into his saddle angrily. He also feels guilty and he reminds himself that he loves Egwene. He tries to keep watch for more grolm. He also notices that they will reach Kinslayer’s Dagger before nightfall – perhaps even within an hour.

Loial: She says you were right about this place, Rand.

Rand gives a start at Loial’s sudden appearance beside him. He looks around for Selene and finds her riding beside Hurin. Rand asks Loial what he means about him having been right. Loial notes that Selene is a fascinating woman who knows a lot about history, especially the Age of Legends. Then he tells Rand that he was right about The Ways. Selene told Loial that Aes Sedai studied worlds like the ones they are in now and he says that study was the basis for how they grew The Ways. Loial says that Selene told him there are worlds where it is time, rather than distance, that changes.

Loial: Spend a day in one of those and you might come back to find a year has passed in the real world. Or twenty. Or it could be the other way around.

Loial says that those worlds and the one they travel in now are reflections of the real world. She says the one they are in now seems pale to them because it is a weak reflection. On the other hand, other worlds are almost as likely as their own. They are solid and they have not only people but the same people. Loial says that Rand could go to one of them and meet himself.

Rand asks Loial how she knows all of that and the Ogier replies that she is from Cairhien and he says the Royal Library there is one of the greatest in the world – perhaps the greatest outside of Tar Valon. Loial says that the Aiel spared it intentionally as they burned the city. Rand hotly tells Loial that if Selene knows so much, he wishes she… and he stops as she rides up.

Selene: You wish Selene what?

Rand stares at her as if she had been gone for months.

Rand: I wish Selene would come ride with me some more.

Loial chuckles and Rand feels his face burn. She asks Loial, calling him Alantin, if he will excuse them. Loial bows and lets his horse fall back. Rand rides in silence with her, enjoying her presence. He cannot decide what he thinks about her. He thinks she feels like an Aes Sedai but does not believe that any Aes Sedai would know he is in this place. They could not send someone here to keep an eye on him. He also does not believe that any Aes Sedai would attempt to fend off a grolm with a stick. He thinks to himself that she is beautiful and learned. He is pleased that she thinks he is brave.

Rand: What more could a man ask in a wife?

Rand decides that his thoughts are crazy. He tells himself that he would marry Egwene if he could marry anyone. He also thinks to himself that he cannot ask a woman to marry him, knowing that he will go mad and probably hurt her in the process. He qualifies his thoughts again, though, by noting just how beautiful Selene is. Rand sees that she is studying his sword. She says abruptly that his shot before was magnificent.

Rand starts to tell her he is not a blademaster but stops when he realizes that she did not ask about it. He blinks. She says that the grolm’s eye was a tiny target, moving, and at one hundred paces. She tells him that he has a wonderful hand with his bow. Rand explains that it is a trick his father taught him. He tells her about the Void and how Tam had taught him to use it with the bow. He even tells her about Lan and his sword lessons.

Selene refers to it as The Oneness. When Rand looks at her questioningly, she says that is what it is called in some places. She says that to learn the full use of it, it is better to wrap it around oneself continuously – to dwell in it at all times. Rand tells her that he will think about it despite his lack of desire to be close to the light inside the Void.

Selene: Wear this Void of yours, Rand al’Thor, and you will find uses for it you never suspected.

Rand asks her how she knows so much and he points out that Loial reads all the time and knows comparatively little. Selene draws herself up and it reminds Rand of Moiraine or of Queen Morgase when they are angry. She tells Rand, tightly, that there is a book written about these worlds called Mirrors of the Wheel. She says that the Alantin has not seen all the books that exist. Rand then asks her what Alantin means.

Abruptly, Selene tells Rand that the portal stone beside which she woke up is there and she points into the mountains to the east of their path. She says that if he takes her to it, he can return her home as promised. She says that they can reach it in an hour. Rand asks Hurin about the trail. The Sniffer replies that it is fainter than ever but still there. He tells Rand that he believes it is angling to the west where there are some easier passes.

Rand tells her that he has to follow the Horn. She replies, asking him how he knows his precious Horn is in this world.

Selene: Come with me Rand. You’ll find your legends, I promise you. Come with me.

Rand replies angrily that she can use the Portal Stone herself. Before the words are out of his mouth, he wants them back. Stubbornly he forces himself to go on. He argues that if she made the Portal Stone bring her here, she can use it to bring herself back. He offers to take her to the stone and then return to the Darkfriends’ trail. She tells Rand that she does not know how to use the Stones. Rand studies her. He thinks now that he was wrong, earlier, when he put Nynaeve’s age to her. He now thinks she looks his own age. He also thinks she needs him.

Rand: Stay with me, Selene. We’ll find the Horn and Mat’s dagger. And we’ll find a way back, I promise you. Just stay with me.

Selene: You always…

She takes a deep breath to calm herself and says he is always so stubborn. She says that she can admire that and that there is something to a man who is not too biddable. Rand turns to tell Hurin to continue on to the trail. Behind them comes a distant coughing grunt. Rand sees five shapes only half a mile distant.

Selene says that a small pack of grolm have their scent.

REACTION:

I mean, obviously, Selene is Lanfear, right? Lanfear is The Daughter of the Night. Selene means “moon goddess.” Even if you’re a first time reader this is laying it on thick. The early chapters mention Lanfear. Egwene has the dream where she sees an evil woman next to Rand before he disappears. Uno kept seeing a woman in white. Hurin saw a woman in white. She appears and disappears at will. She is completely unimpressed by grolm. She knows a lot (way too much) about the place they are in and Age of Legends and uses what sounds like an antiquated title for the Ogier. She knows exactly how to kill an animal that does not exist in the real world… somehow. She knows what that animal is called. She heals a wound of Rand’s in a magically swift way. She is obsessed with greatness. She tells Rand that he will find other uses for the Void… almost as if she knows how men access the One Power.

I suppose we are supposed to just believe that Selene is so beautiful that nobody puts together any of this. Well, I guess to be fair Rand puts it together a little bit. “I read a book once” doesn’t answer most of the questions Rand should have but he decides to just let the rest of her story slide.

I do not envy the casting director who must find an impossibly beautiful tall woman, who is also a great actress, to play “Selene.”

It is interesting to me that Ba’alzamon and now “Selene” seem keenly interested in convincing Rand to channel. They could kill him easily enough (assuming Selene is Lanfear) but they strongly prefer other options for him.

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