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 37: What Might Be
Alar leads the group away from the Waygate at a dignified pace while Juin seems more than anxious to leave the Waygate behind. Mat looks ahead eagerly, Hurin looks confident, and Loial seems nervous that Alar might change her mind about his going now that they will not need him to interpret the Guidings inside The Ways. Rand is not hurrying. He does not think Verin means to use the Stone herself.
Soon, they come upon the Portal Stone. It is weathered but the symbols carved upon it are clear enough to make out. Alar tells them that they stood the Stone upright when they found it many years ago but she says they did not move it. She says the Stone itself seemed to resist being moved. The Eldest places a large hand on the Stone and says that she has always seen them as a symbol of what is lost.
Verin apologizes for a lack of ceremony but says that the Wheel waits for no woman. The Aes Sedai notes that at least they will leave the Stedding in peace. Alar replies that the Ogier still hear of events from the outside world – False Dragons, The Great Hunt of the Horn. She says that they hear this news and it passes them by. Alarm says though that she does not believe Tarmon Gai’don will pass them by.
Alar: Fare you well, Verin Sedai. All of you fare well. And may you shelter in the palm of the Creator’s hand.
Alarm paused to look at Juin and one more look at Rand before they disappeared among the trees. The saddles creak as the soldiers gather around the Stone. Ingtar asks Verin if this is necessary. Verin replies that if they cannot be sure of where Fain took the Horn that Toman Head is as good a place to look as any. Verin motions to Rand to come closer to it with her, citing the fact that Rand has been transported by a Portal Stone more recently than she has. Rand leads Red over to her at the Stone.
Rand – too quietly for the others to hear – replies questioningly that she has used a Portal Stone. He seems relieved as it will mean that he will not have to channel. Verin replies blandly that she knows her limits and that channeling enough of the One Power to use a Portal Stone would destroy her. She does state though that she knows a little of them, enough at least to help Rand a bit. Rand replies that he does not know anything except the symbol for their own world. He notes though that he does not see that symbol on this stone.
Verin replies that the symbol would not be found on a Stone in their own world because the symbols are aids in getting to another world. Verin shakes her head wonderingly and once again says how much she wishes she could speak with this Lady Selene of Rand’s, or better yet get a hand on her book. Verin tells Rand that generally it is thought that no copy of the book survived the Breaking whole. She tells him that she does know some things. The symbols on the top half of the Stone stand for worlds. Rand is afraid of channeling and yet he also hungers for it like a starving man for food. Rand tells Verin again that he does not remember anything. Verin goes on and explains to Rand that the symbols at the bottom of the Stone indicate Stones in other places. She tells Rand that if he knows the symbol, and the trick of it, Rand can take their party directly to Toman Head without visiting another world first. Or he could take them to Toman Head in another world. Verin says that this is something akin to Traveling, but she says that just as no one remembers how to Travel, no one remembers this trick with the Stones, either.
Verin points to two parallel wavy lines crossed by an odd squiggle. She says the symbol indicates a Stone on Toman Head. She says that it is one of three Stones for which she knows the symbol and the only one of those three she has previously visited. Verin tells Rand that what she learned from the Stone on Toman Head was absolutely nothing. She asks Rand if he plays at dice or cards and Rand replies that Mat is the gambler.
Verin points out some other symbols on this Stone that are new to her. She knows that these symbols stand for a world – the study of which led eventually to the making of The Ways. She says that these are not all the world studied – just the only ones for which she knows the symbols. She says that this is where gambling comes in because she does not know what any of these worlds are like. She says that it is believed there are worlds where a year here is a day there and vice versa. She says there are other worlds with barely enough air to breath and and still more with barely enough reality to hold together.
Verin: You must choose. As my father would have said, it’s time to roll the dice.
Rand stares shaking his head and notes that he might kill all of them. She asks if he is not willing to take that chance for the Horn of Valere. Rand asks what good it will do if he kills them all.
Verin: You are the Dragon Reborn. Oh, you can die. But I don’t think the Pattern will let you die until it is done with you.
She adds next though that the Shadow lies on the Pattern now and wonders aloud how that might effect the Weaving. She tells Rand that all he can do is follow his instinct. Rand tells her he is not the Dragon Reborn and that he will not be used as a False Dragon. She replies calmly that he is who he is and then asks him if he will choose or stand here until his friend dies. Rand hears his teeth grinding and unclenches his jaw. Rand picks a symbol from the bottom of the Stone to touch while also touching the symbol for Toman Head with his other hand.
Verin calls for all of them to come closer. She throws back her cloak and places hands on the Stone, while watching Rand from the corner of her eye. The soldiers come closer as Rand seeks the Void and saidin. Rand reaches for saidin and it fills him. Rand lets the One Power flow through him and through the symbol. Verin says that something is happening.
The world flickers.
An iron lock spins across the farmhouse floor and Rand drops a hot tea kettle as a huge figure with ram’s horns on its head looms in the doorway with the darkness of Winternight behind it. Tam shouts for Rand to run just before his sword flashes. More trollocs crowd in the doorway. Rand pulls a knife from his belt and throws himself forward to help Tam. He screams as a sword runs through his chest. Blood bubbles into Rand’s mouth and a voice whispers inside his head, “I won again, Lews Therin.”
Rand struggles to hold the symbol on the Stone, dimly aware of Verin’s voice. Power floods through him.
Rand is happy after marrying Egwene. He tries not to let the moods take him when he thinks to himself that there should be something more or something different to his life. News of the outside world comes into the Two Rivers with peddlers and merchants. The news always contains world of fresh troubles, wars, and False Dragons everywhere. There was a year when neither merchants nor peddlers came. When they returned, they brought word that Artur Hawkwing’s armies had come back. The world’s new masters use chained Aes Sedai in their battles and have torn down the White Tower and salted the ground where it once stood. There are no more Aes Sedai. It all makes little difference in the Two Rivers. Tam had grandsons and granddaughters to dandle on his knee before he was laid to rest. The farmhouse grew new rooms with the growing family. Egwene became Wisdom of Emond’s Field. Many people think she is even better than the old Wisdom, Nynaeve al’Meara. It is good that she is so good because her cures that work so miraculously on others only seem to barely keep Rand alive from the sickness constantly threatening him. Rand’s moods grow worse, blacker, and he rages that this is not what was meant to be. Egwene grows frightened during Rand’s moods because strange things seem to happen – such as lightning storms she had not heard listening to the wind and wildfires in the forest – but she loves him, cares for him, and keeps him sane.
When Egwene died, Rand sat alone for long hours by her grave with tears soaking his gray flecked beard. Rand’s sickness returns and his body wasted away. He lost his two remaining fingers on his right hand and another finger on his left hand. Rand’s ears look like scars and men mutter than he smells like decay. Yet, when the news came to the Two Rivers that trollocs, Fades, and other creatures burst forward from the Blight, and that the world’s new masters are being thrown back, nobody refused to have Rand by their side as the people from the Two Rivers march toward the River Taren. Rand has just enough fingers to fire a bow. He also wears a heron marked sword on his side, that he found after Tam died, but he does not know how to use it.
At the Taren, the people of the Two Rivers met the endless ranks of trollocs. Rand sees a dead black banner carried by the trollocs and thinks that the madness has taken him again. He believes that he was born to fight that banner. Rand fires all of his arrows at the banner, never worrying about the trollocs or the men and women next to him dying. One of the trollocs runs him through before loping away, howling for blood. As Rand lies on the bank of the Taren, watching the sky grow dark at noon, he hears a voice say “I have won again, Lews Therin.”
The symbol on the Stone contorts into parallel wavy lines. He fights it back again. He hears Verin’s voice as the power rages through him.
Tam tries to console Rand after Egwene takes sick a dies just a week before their wedding. Nynaeve tries to console him also, but she is shaken, as despite all of her skills in healing, she has no idea what killed the girl. Rand sat outside while she died and there seems to be no place in Emond’s Field that he can go where he does not still hear her screaming.
Rand knows he cannot stay in Edmond’s Field. Tam gives him a sword with a heron marked blade, and though he does not explain how a shepherd in the Two Rivers came by such a thing, he teaches Rand how to use it. On the day Rand leaves, Tam gives him a letter that he tells Rand might get him accepted into the Army of Illian. Tam hugs him and says that he has never had another son nor wanted another. He tells Rand to come back with a wife and family as he did, if he can. He tells Rand to come back in any case.
Rand has his money stolen in Baerlon. His Letter of Introduction from Tam is also stolen and his sword is almost stolen as well. While there, he meets a woman called Min who tells him such crazy things about himself that he finally leaves the city to get away from her. Eventually his wanderings take him to Caemlyn where his skill with a sword earns him a place in the Queen’s Guard. Sometimes he finds himself looking at the Daughter Heir, Elayne, and is filled with odd thoughts that this is not the way the world is supposed to be. Elayne never looks at Rand. She marries a Tieran prince though she does not seem happy in it. In any case, Rand is only a soldier from a distant village barely connected to Andor except by lines on a map.
In any case, Rand is also known for his dark moods. Some say that he is mad. In ordinary times, not even his skill with a sword would keep him in the Guard. These are not ordinary times, though. False Dragons spring up like weeds. Every nation is torn by war. Rand’s star is also born because he has learned the secret of his madness. He knows he has to keep the secret, too. He can Channel. He believes that there is always a time during a battle when a little channeling can swing events or make luck.
Rand also knows that he is mad and he does not care. A wasting sickness comes on him. He does not care about that either, nor does anyone else, as word arrives that Artur Hawkwing’s armies have come to reclaim the land. Rand leads a thousand men when the Queen’s armies cross the Mountains of Mist. Rand also commands the Guard as its shattered remnants retreat back across the mountains. Across the length of Andor he fights and falls back until at least falling back to Caemlyn itself. Many of the people in the city have fled. Elayne is Queen now and vows that she will not leave the city. What is left of the Queen’s Guards prepare to defend their Queen while the people run. The power comes to Rand during the defense of the city. He hurls lightning at the invaders and tears apart the earth beneath their feet. The feeling comes to him that he was born for something else as he does this.
For all that Rand does, there are too many of the enemy to stop. At last a lightning bolt hurls Rand from the palace wall, broken, bleeding, and burned. As his last breath rattles in his throat, he hears a voice saying in his head, “I have won again, Lews Therin.”
Rand struggles to hold the Void as it quivers under the hammer blows of the world flickering. He holds the one symbol as a thousand of them dart along the surface of the Void. Rand struggles to hold onto any one symbol. Verin screams.
Flicker. Flicker. Flicker. Flicker. Flicker. Flicker. Flicker.
Rand is a soldier, a shepherd, a beggar, and a king. He is farmer, sailor, gleeman, and carpenter. He is born, lived, and died an Aiel. He dies mad. He dies rotting. He dies of sickness, accidents, and age. He is executed in front of cheering crowds. He proclaims himself the Dragon Reborn and flies his banner across the sky. He runs from the One Power. He lives and dies never knowing he can channel. He holds off the sickness and madness for years. He succumbs to it within two years. Sometimes Moiraine comes and takes him from the Two Rivers, alone or with those of his friends who survived Winternight. Sometimes she does not come. Sometimes other Aes Sedai come for him – including the Red Ajah. Egwene marries him. Egwene, stern-faced and in the stole of the Amyrlin Seat, gentles him. Egwene with tears in her eyes plunges a dagger into his heart and he thanks her. He loves other women. He marries other women – Elayne and Min and a fair-haired farmer’s daughter met on the road to Caemlyn. Rand lives a hundred lives. More. He lives so many lives he cannot count them. At the end of every story, as he lays dying, as he draws his final breath, a voice whispers in his ear, “I have won again Lews Therin,”
Flicker. Flicker. Flicker. Flicker. Flicker. Flicker. Flicker. Flicker. Flicker. Flicker. Flicker. Flicker. Flicker. Flicker. Flicker. Flicker. Flicker. Flicker. Flicker. Flicker. Flicker.
The Void vanishes, saidin flees, and Rand falls with a thud to the ground. He feels rough stone under his cheek and under his hands. It is cold. Rand is aware of Verin struggling from her back to her hands and knees. He hears someone else vomit roughly and Rand raises his head. Everyone is down and the horses stand stiff-legged and quivering, eyes wild and rolling. Ingtar has his sword out, gripping it so hard that the blade is shaking. Loial sits sprawled, wide-eyed and stunned. Mat is huddled in a ball with his arms wrapped around his head and Perrin’s fingers are dug into his face as if he wants to rip away whatever it is that he has seen. None of the soldiers are any better. Masema is weeping openly and Hurin is looking around as if for a place to run.
Rand asks what happened. Verin tottles to her feet and says that there was a surge of the One Power. She shivers. She says it was as if they were being forced – pushed – and it seemed to come out of nowhere. Verin tells Rand that he must learn to control it.
Rand tells Verin that he lived and died countless times. He says that every time it was himself. Verin says that they saw how their lives could have been if they had made different choices. She says that the important this is that they are here at Toman Head, though not as they had intended. Verin tells Rand that he should not have tried to bring them all directly to Toman Head. She further says that she does not know what went wrong with their attempt to use the Stones.
Verin then tells Rand that based on the trees it is now well into late autumn. She tells Rand that they have not gained any time by traveling this way – in fact they may have lost time. She speculates that they have spent four months in coming to Toman Head.
Verin goes to Ingtar and touches his arm. He looks at her with frantic eyes and says that he walks in the Light. She touches his face and he calms though memories of what had happened still haunt his eyes. She starts around to help the others. Rand goes to his friends. When he goes to Mat, he grabs Rand by his coat with both hands and insists that he would never tell anyone about him and that he would not betray him. Rand tells him that he believes him as he wonders what lives Mat lived. Rand checks on Perrin, next. Perrin drops his hands from his face with a sigh and he says that they do not really have many choices.
Perrin: Whatever happens, whatever we do, some things are almost always the same.
Perrin asks where they are. Rand tells him that they are in Toman Head, in their own world, and that it is now autumn. Mat asks how they can find Fain and the dagger now and Rand assures him that Fain is here. Rand hopes that he is right.
Verin announces loudly enough for all to hear that the larger towns of Toman Head are all west of where they are now. She says that if they are to find any traces of the Darkfriends, they should begin to the west. They mount and ride to the west. Nobody protests, Rand least of all. He hopes that he is not too late.
I highly encourage listening to the audio books for this chapter. Flicker. Flicker.
There’s a lot to unpack here so let’s start with what is most important: did the horses see alternative lives, too?
So… what happened here? That’s not clear. I strongly suspect that someone (one of the Forsaken) tampered with the Portal Stone trip. Otherwise why would Rand have been hearing “I win again” repeatedly. In addition, that explains why Verin feels a surge in the One Power.
Were they actually seeing alternative lives? There is no way to really know that but they were real enough. The part about this that matters is what we learn from the other characters and about the world via these alternatives.
Fighting off the saidin induced madness for the longer haul does not seem to have a genetic component. Rand manages sometimes and other times he does not. In addition, we learn that defeating the sickness that kills female channelers born with “the spark” – when they are are not trained by someone – is not genetic, either. Egwene lives sometimes without training and she dies sometimes. Rand also lives through a life where the sickness kills her. If you remember back to The Eye of the World, when Moiraine was trying to convince Nynaeve that she can channel, she reminds the Wisdom of a similar sickness that Nynaever herself had – but the Wisdom lived through it. Nynaeve reluctantly admits to herself that Moiriane could not have found out about that by asking questions of people in the Two Rivers. Nynaeve at that point recalls another Wisdom’s apprentice who died of “bonebreak fever.” That conversation is when Nynaeve really starts to believe that Moiraine is telling the truth about channeling the One Power.
We do not really know what the others saw in their other lives but I wish we did. Mat obviously betrays Rand (accidentally or on purpose) and obviously it leads to bad outcomes when he does. Perrin also clearly becomes a Wolfbrother as often as Rand becomes a channeler. Ingtar apparently became a Darkfriend.
I can recall numerous chance encounters that changed the course of my life in significant ways. I can recall a significant car crash that I survived unscathed. I can recall making education choices that directly influenced who my classmates were and who my friends subsequently became. This chapter is a fun one to read because if the reader applies the internal logic to him or herself, we will also come up with a wide array of potential life outcomes.
Going forward, how embedded is Fain with the Seanchan now that it is autumn? Probably to a great degree. He changed the character and nature of his prison guards in Fal Dara in a short span of time. He will likely have a similar influence on the Seanchan.
Bayle Domon do be in Toman Head, too. He’s not in the story here for no reason.