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 55: What Is Written in Prophecy
Rand enters the chamber slowly walking among the great red stone columns he remembers from his dreams. Silence fills the shadows by something calls to him and something flashes ahead – a beacon. He steps out beneath a great dome and sees what he sought – Callandor – hanging hilt down, in mid air, waiting for no hand but that of The Dragon Reborn. It revolves and calls to him.
A voice breaks the silence and tells Lews Therin to take it. Rand spins to face teh voice. A tall man with close cropped white hair steps out is familiar to Rand. He has never met him before but has seen him before in his dreams.
Rand: You put them in a cage – Egwene, Elayne, and Nynaeve. You kept putting them in a cage and hurting them.
The man makes a dismissive gesture with his hand and says that they are less than nothing before conceding they may be more one day when they are trained. He adds that he is surprised Rand cared enough for them that they were useful. He tells Rand he was always a fool and always too ready to follow his heart instead of caring for power. He then tells Rand, calling him Lews Therin still, that he came too soon. He says Rand must do what he is not yet ready for, or else die, knowing that he has left these women he cares for in his hands. The man seems to be waiting for Rand to do something.
Rand asks the man who he is and the white haired man muses over the fact that Rand does not remember him. He laughs suddenly and says he does not remember him either, looking this way, a country lad with a flute case on his back. He asks Rand if Ishamael spoke the truth and says he was ever one to lie if it gained him an inch or a second. Rand demands his name and the Forsaken replies that Rand should call him Be’lal. He then scowls when Rand does not react to the name. He tells Rand to take the sword. Be’lal says that he and Lews Therin once rode to war together and thus he is willing to give Rand this chance, this bare chance, to survive him and save his friends. Rand laughs.
Rand: Do you believe you can frighten me so easily, Forsaken? Ba’alzamon himself has hunted me. Do you think I will cower now for you, grovel before a Forsaken, when I have denied the Dark One to his face?
Be’lal: Is that what you think? Truly you know nothing.
Suddenly there is a sword in his hands with a blade carved from black fire. Be’lal tells him to take Callandor and to defend himself if he can. He moves toward Rand as if to drive him back but Rand raises his own hand, is filled with saidin, and suddenly holds his own sword wrought from red flame. Rand steps into the forms Lan had taught him as if in a dance. The two blades me in showers of sparks. After initial blows, Rand steps back into a defensive posture, noticing the heron mark on the other man’s blade and understanding that he has no real right to a blademaster’s sword himself. Be’lal is better than Rand with a sword and Rand can tell right away.
Mockingly, the Forsaken tells “Lews Therin” that he was a greater swordsman once. He asks him if he can remember when the two of them took the tame sport called swords and then learned to kill with it. He asks if Rand can remember any of their desperate battles or dire defeats. He tells him he has not learned enough. He suggests again to Rand that if he takes Callandor he might extend his life a little longer. He comes forward slowly as if to give Rand time to take it. Rand still has doubts, though, and worries that if he races to take Callandor the Forsaken might cut him down from behind while he reaches for it. So Rand faces the Forsaken with the sword he knows, the one wrought from saidin. He is driven back again. Methodically and deliberately, Be’lal drives him back toward Callandor.
Shouts echo among the columns, the sound of steel on steel, and of screams, but Rand hardly notices them. He and Be’lal are no longer alone in the Heart of the Stone. Men in helmets and breastplates fight against shadowy shapes that dart amongst the columns using short spears. Rand’s own fight is too desperate for Rand to pay attention. His old wound breaks open on his side and he feels blood trickling down, before he stumbles suddenly over a dead body. Be’lal hovers over him and tells him to take Callandor or else he will kill him now.
Be’lal: If you will not take it, I will slay you.
A woman’s voice shouts “no” and it catches even Be’lal’s attention. He steps back from Rand and stares at Moiraine as she strides toward him in the midst of a battle. Be’lal tells her that he thought she was neatly out of the way. He tells her that she is only an annoyance and promises to cage her with the others before forcing her to serve the Shadow with them. He raises a free hand. Moiraine had not stopped or slowed while he was talking and she raises both of her hands as he raises his. There is an instant of surprise on Be’lal’s face, and he has time to shout “no!” just as a bar of white flame shoots from her hands and the Forsaken vanishes after it touches him.
Suddenly the fighting has stopped dead and silence fills the chamber except for the cries of the wounded. Veiled men, as well as men in breastplates, are standing as if stunned. Moiraine tells Rand that Be’lal was right about one thing – that Rand must take Callandor.
Moiraine: He meant to slay you for it, but it is your birthright.
As she tells him to take it, whips of black lightning curl around her and she screams. She is hurled across the floor until she comes to rest against one of the columns. Rand stares up at where the lightning had come from. Near the top of the columns, there is a deeper shadow, a blackness that makes the other shadows look like noon. From that shadow, two eyes of fire stare at him. Slowly the shadow descends, resolving into Ba’alzamon.
Ba’alzamon: Twice in this life have I offered you the chance to serve me while living. Twice you have refused and wounded me. Now you will serve the Lord of the Grave in death. Die, Lews Therin Kinslayer! Die, Rand al’Thor! It is time for you to die!
Ba’alzamon pushes forward his hand toward Rand, telling him that he will take his soul. Rand throws himself desperately toward Callandor. He is sure it is his only chance. The blow strikes him as he leaps, striking inside of him, tearing something loose. Rand screams and feels as though he is collapsing. His hand closes convulsively on Callandor’s hilt. The One Power surges through him, a torrent greater than he can believe, and he draws saidin through the sword. The sword is too bright to look at but the feeling inside of him firms. He then turns to face Ba’alzamon and shouts.
Rand: You will not take my soul! This time I mean to finish it once and for all. I mean to finish it now.
Ba’alzamon flees, man and shadow vanishing, and for a moment Rand stands there frowning. There had been a sense of folding as Ba’alzamon left Ignoring the men staring at him, and ignoring Moiraine lying on the floor, Rand twists reality itself to make a door to somewhere else. He does not know to where except that it is where Ba’alzamon had gone. Rand says aloud that he is the hunter now and then he steps through the door.
The Stone shakes beneath Egwene’s feet and then it stops. She hurries on. A door with an iron lock stands in her way and she channels earth before reaching it. When she pushes against it, the lock tears in half. She walks across the chamber trying not to look at the things on the walls – whips and iron pincers. She walks down a corridor and looks for the right cell. The wooden doors open easily but every cell is empty. Suddenly she realizes that no one would dream themselves in this place. For a moment she feels something close to despair because she had wanted to believe that finding the right cell would make a difference.
Suddenly she sees something flicker up ahead of her – a shape even less substantial that Joiya Byir had been. She is sure though that the shape had been a woman seated on a bench, beside one of the cell doors. The image flickers into being again and is suddeny gone. This time though, Egwene recognizes Amico Nagoyin, and she suspects the Black Sister is drifting toward sleep and dreaming of her guard duties while toying with one of the stolen ter’angreal. Egwene can understand the urge to do that.
She knows that severing a woman’s connection to the True Source is much more difficult after she has already embraced the source, but she readies the weaves to cut off Amico all the same. This time, when the wavering shape of the Darkfriend appears again, Egwene strikes out with the flows of air and spirit. For an instant, something seems to resist her, but she forces it into place. Amico screams but it is a thin sound, barely heard, almost as faint as her appearance. The bonds woven of air hold her in place and prevent her from flickering away again. The Darkfriend appears to be terrified as Egwene ties the weaves in place and turns her attention to the cell door. When she opens it, she is not surprised to find the cell empty except for one burning torch. She tries to think of what to do next and then steps out of the dream and back into her body and all of its aches and bruises.
Nynaeve and Elayne are still awake, kneeling beside her, and Nynaeve reports that someone outside the door screamed just a few moments ago though nothing has happened since. She asks Egwene if she found a way out and she replies that the three of them should now be able to walk out. She asks them to help her to her feet and explains that the scream was Amico. Elayne shakes her head and says that while it is different now, she is still cut off. Egwene tries to reach the Source and also feels an invisible wall still in place. It is weaker now, though, and there are moments when she can almost feel the True Source through it – but only almost.
Egwene tells them that she bound and shielded Amico. Elayne concedes that something has happened to the shield but that Amico is still managing to hold it. Egwene lets her head sag back against the wall and says she must try again. They voice concern that she seems tired now, and weaker, but she tells them that this is their only chance and their faces seem to agree with her however reluctantly.
Nynaeve asks if she can go to sleep again so soon and Egwene asks her to sing to her. She closes her eyes and tries to find sleep.
A wide row of iron bars stand open but Mat enters cautiously. Sandar is out in the hall trying to peer both ways at once, certain that a High Lord or maybe one hundred Defenders will appear at any moment. Mat calls to Juilin, asking if he plans to stand out there all nigh, before hurrying to an inner door and not waiting for an answer before going through. The hall beyond is lined by rough doors and torches. No more than twenty paces in front of him, a woman is sitting on a bench in front of a door in a curiously stiff fashion. She turns her head slowly toward him at the sound of his boots grating on stone. Mat decides she is pretty but wonders why she does not move more than just her head. He wonders further if she is a prisoner, somehow, out in the hallway. He determines that nobody with a face like hers could be one of the people using the torture devices he just saw on the walls behind him.
Sandar shouts suddenly at Mat to stop and warns him that she is Aes Sedai – one of those that captured his friends. Mat freezes, staring at her, and wonders if his luck extends to outrunning Aes Sedai. Suddenly the woman whispers to him for help. Her eyes look nearly asleep but the pleading in her voice is awake. He moves closer and ignores Sandar’s words about her being Aes Sedai.
A large iron key hangs at her belt. For a moment he hesitates, then he eases the key as carefully as if he were trying to take a piece of meat from a wolf’s jaws. She rolls her eyes to the door beside her and moans. He does not understand why she does not stop him, but at the moment, he does not care. He hesitates wondering what might be on the other side of the door, reasoning that it is the three girls, but noticing that the woman is acting in her expression as if a halfman is inside. He decides that there is only one way to find out. He props his staff against the wall, turns the key, and throws open the door, ready to run if need be.
Nynaeve and Elayne are kneeling on the floor with Egwene apparently asleep between them. He gasps at the sight of Egwene’s swollen face and changes his mind about thinking she is sleeping. The other two women turn toward him as he opens the door and they are almost as battered as Egwene. Mat starts cursing himself at the sight.
Nynaeve: Matrim Cauthon, what under the Light are you doing here?
Mat: I came to bloody rescue you. Burn me if I expected to be greeted as if I had come to steal a pie. You can tell me why you look as if you have been fighting bears later, if you want. If Egwene cannot walk, I can carry her on my back. There are Aiel all over the Stone, or near enough.
He tells them that they need to get out of here now while they can. Nynaeve tells him to mind his language and Elayne gives him a disapproving stare. They both begin shaking Egwene and her eyes open. As she tells them that she cannot understand it, she sees Mat and her eyes widen, before asking him what under the Light he is doing here. Mat just instructs the other two to tell her. They women see Juilin behind Mat and stare angrily at him. Juilin sputters that they have cause and that he betrayed them, before he tells Mat quickly that he had to. He explains that the one with the many honey colored braids told him what to do and he had no choice. For a long moment, the three women continue to stare at him. Nynaeve finally speaks and tells Juilin that Liandrin has vile tricks and that perhaps he is not entirely to blame.
Mat, exasperated, tells the group now that this is all cleared up, if they can go now. The three women limp after Mat into the hall but they stop in front of the woman on the bench. She whimpers to them that she will come back to the Light and she swears that she will obey them. She tells them that she will swear it with the Oath Rod in her hands. Mat jumps as Nynaeve rears back and swings a fist, knocking the woman completely off the bench. Even lying on her side, she remains in exactly the same position she had been in on the bench.
Excitedly, Elayne says that it is gone. Egwene bends to rummage through the unconscious woman’s pouch and transfers something he cannot make out into her own. Nynaeve takes Egwene’s head in her hands, causing the other woman to rise up onto her toes, gasping. When she takes her hands away to put them on Elayne, Egwene’s bruises are gone. Elayne’s bruises vanish as quickly.
Mat asks them what they are thinking, hitting a woman who is just sitting there, adding that he does not think she can even move. Suddenly he feels the air around him feel as though it is turning to jelly, and he feels himself rise up off of the floor. Egwene and Nynaeve tell them that he does not understand anything and that until he does understand, he should keep his opinions to himself. For some reason, Mat finds himself giving the three of them a grin that often sent his mother after a switch.
Mat: What I can understand is that I got you out of something that you couldn’t’ get yourselves out of and you all have about as much gratitude as a bloody Taren ferry man with a bloody tooth ache.
Finally Nynaeve tells him that he is right and then his feet hit the floor so hard that his teeth are jarred. Mat asks if they can go now but Nynaeve tells him that they are not ready to go just yet. She says she wants to find Liandrin and skin her. Elayne says that she wants to find Joiya Byir and pound her until she squeals. Mat growls at all of them and asks if they are all deaf. He reminds them that there is a battle inside the Stone right now. He tells the three of them that he came here to rescue them and that he means to. Egwene pats his cheek as she walks by him. Elayne does the same. Nynaeve merely walks by and sniffs at him. He just stares back at them with his mouth hanging open. Finally Mat turns to Juilin and asks why he did not say something and the other man tells him that he saw what speaking earned Mat.
With a snarl, Mat puts his quarterstaff against his shoulder and starts after them. He quickens his pace to a trot.
Perrin walks down a hallway grimly searching for some sign of Faile. He has rescued her twice more now and both times she melts into the air after saying his name. Hopper trots beside Perrin with his nose in the air. For as sharp as Perrin’s nose is, Hopper’s is sharper. Perrin thinks he glimpses Rand from a distance before the figure is gone. He thinks he could not be him but adds to himself that he thinks it was.
Perrin trips. Weakness washes through him. Hopper turns to look at him and tells him that he is here too strongly.
Hopper: The flesh weakens. You do ot care to hold onto it enough. Soon flesh and dream will die together.
Perrin: Find her.
They stare at each other and Hopper turns and trots to a pair of doors. The wolf tells him she is beyond here. Perrin turns to the doors and pushes. They do not budge. The doors have no handles or any other way to open them. He notices finely worked falcons carved into the doors – thousands of tiny falcons. Perrin believes she is there and that he does not think he can last much longer.
With a shout, he swings his hammer against the bronze. It rings like a great gong. He strikes again and the peel deepens. On his third blow, the doors shatter like glass. Within, one hundred paces from the shattered door, a circle of light surrounds a falcon chained to a perch. Darkness and faint rustlings, as of hundreds of wings, fills the rest of the vast chamber. He takes a step into the room. A falcon swoops out of the mirk, talons scoring his face as he passes. He throws an arm across his eyes and talons tear his forearm. He staggers toward the perch and the birds continue to come. As he reaches the perch, slicing talons drive him toward his knees. He stares up at the falcon on the perch and she stares back with dark unblinking eyes. The chain that holds her fastened has a tiny lock shaped like a hedgehog. He seizes the chain with both hands, careless of the whirlwind of falcons around him, and with his last strength snaps it. Pain and the falcons bring darkness.
He opens his eyes to stinging agony, as if his face and arms and shoulders had been sliced open with a thousand knives. Faile is kneeling over him, her dark tiltedeyes filled with worry, and her hand holding a cloth filled with Perrin’s blood.
Faile: My poor Perrin. My poor blacksmith. You are hurt so badly.
With an effort that causes more pain, he sees that they are in the private dining room inside the inn. Near one leg of the table lies the wooden carving of the hedgehog broken in half. He whispers “Faile” to her and calls her “my falcon.”
Rand is still in the Heart of the Stone but it is different. All of the men are gone. Abruptly he hears the sound of a great gong and then again, with the very stones beneath his feet resonating. A third time the boom comes but it cuts off abruptly, as if the gong had shattered. Rand wonders to himself what this place is and where Ba’alzamon is. As if to answer him, a blazing shaft, like the one Moiraine had made, shoots out of the shadows from the columns. On instinct, he channels into the Callandor and raises it up to meet the bar of light. When the bar of light touches the sword, it parts to either side of Rand. He feels his coat singe from the passage. The parted bars of light destroy portions of the columns behind Rand, removing them as if they never were. Columns begin to collapse behind him. A snarl of rage comes from the shadows and Rand swings the blade, sending light ahead. Columns crumble but Rand hears a sound beyond of boots on stone, running. Rand hurries after Ba’alzamon.
A tall archway collapses above him, as if to bury him. but he throws the One Power at it and it all becomes dust floating in the air. He runs on. Rand is not sure what he is doing, or how, but he also has no time to think on it. Myrddraal and trollocs leap out of thin air at him, in hundreds, but without knowing how he turns them to vapor that parts before him and vanishes. The air around him suddenly becomes a choking soot but he makes it fresh air again, a cool mist. Flames leap at him from the floor, walls, and ornaments all around, but Rand smashes the fires flat and turns them into a red glaze on the rock. Reality trembles and he feels as though he is being pulled into a place of nothingness but Callandor flares in his hand and he seals up the hole to nothingness. He cannot imagine what it is that he is doing.
Dimly within Rand is a certainty that while holding Callandor, he can do anything – anything. Through endless corridors, he chases Ba’alzamon and it is clear that they both know this time one of them must die. Rand continues tripping traps, undoing them, and running on. Vaguely he knows that he is forcing things back into a natural balance each time that balance is undone.
Finally he is in the Heart of the Stone again.. Some of the columns hang like broken teeth. Ba’alzamon lies ahead of him, backing away from him. Black lines like steel wires seem to run off from him into the darkness. Ba’alzamon cries out that he will not be undone. His mouth is fire and his shriek echoes among the columns.
Ba’alzamon: I cannot be defeated! Aid me!
Some of the darkness shrouding him drifts into his hands. It forms a ball so black that it seems to soak up even the light of Callandor and triumph blazes in his eyes. Rand shouts to him that he is destroyed. Callandor moves in his hands and its light severs the steel black lines around Ba’alzamon, causing Ba’alzamon to convulse. As if there are two of him, he seems to dwindle and grow larger at the same time. Rand shouts to him that he is undone and plunges the shining blade into his chest. Ba’alzamon screams and the fires in his face flare wildly. He howls at Rand that he is a fool and tells him The Great Lord of the Dark can never be defeated. Rand pulls Callandor’s blade free as Ba’alzamon’s body sags and begins to fall, the shadow around him vanishing.
Suddenly Rand is in another Heart of the Stone, surrounded by columns still whole, with fighting men screaming and dying. Moiraine still lays crumpled at the base of a red stone column. At Rand’s feet lays the body of a man with a hole burned through his chest. The dead man might have been handsome and in his middle years, except that where his eyes and mouth should have been were only pits where tendrils of black smoke are rising. Rand thinks to himself that he has done it and that he has killed Ba’alzamon.
Rand: I have done it, I have killed Ba’alzamon, killed Shai’tan. I have won the Last Battle. Light, I am the Dragon Reborn, the Breaker of Nations, the Breaker of the World. No. I will end the breaking, end the killing. I will make it end.
Rand raises Callandor above his head. Silver lightning crackles from the blade, arching toward the dome above. He shouts at everyone to stop. The fighting ceases. Men stare at him in wonder.
Rand: I am Rand al’Thor! I am the Dragon Reborn!
One by one, veiled men and helmeted, kneel to him crying, “the Dragon is Reborn!”
For as much as I love this book – and I do – this ending falls flat for me. It’s good… but I liked the ending of The Great Hunt a bit better. We spend so little time in Rand’s head in this book that it’s hard to feel the catharsis of his victory quite as much as his prior big win. This is also Rand’s third big showdown with Ba’alzamon, so there’s a bit of redundancy here, too. Jordan writes this book, rich in new POVs from other wonderful characters, but then the ending feels like we’re back in Book 1 or Book 2 again.
I know, I know, there is another chapter to go. But the book largely ends here.
Speaking of Jordan’s other characters… Mat finally catches up with the Supergirls and the reunion is infuriating instead of exhilarating. The girls are awful to Mat. I understood their incredulity but holding him in air and then dropping him? Patting him on the cheek, condescendingly, and then marching away? A total lack of gratitude? The reaction kind of makes sense (they’ve been through immense trauma and they view Mat as a scoundrel) but the whole scene just feels like a bucket of cold water being dumped on a perfectly executed chase/rescue build-up for the latter half of the book. I usually like the Supergirls (mostly) but this is hard to forgive.
Perrin’s rescue of Faile is confusing and kind of open-ended at this point because we do not yet know its resolution. I assume he is not going to bleed out, but that’s an assumption. He and Faile seem like they are “together” now, too, assuming that he lives. I have no idea how that hedgehog trap worked but I guess we can assume that Be’lal had something to do with its specifics. I wonder what would have happened to Moiraine if she was trapped. Could Perrin have rescued her? How would her trap be different? There’s no way Be’lal planned all of that falcon theme stuff for Faile so some other mechanism was creating it. The hedgehog ter’angreal might have been using their minds to create the trap.
Be’lal was kind of a letdown. Maybe that’s because the book did not let him be its big bad. We hardly spent time with him – even though we are kind of told near the end that he has been manipulating events to get everyone here – and then he is dispatched pretty easily by Moiraine.
Ba’alzamon had a human body. Be’lal tells Rand beforeo dying that Ishamael has been giving him information about Rand. It seems likely that Ba’alzamon is Ishamael, right? Jordan has done a masterful job of keeping that unclear while kind of also letting us know that it is the only solution. Either way, we should probably assume that Ishamael is dead – not the Dark One. We know for sure that Forsaken rule in Illian, Andor, and that Lanfear is roaming free, too.
At long last, Rand accepts his identity. Now that he has Callandor, he can no longer deny it. You would think that Ba’alzamon believing he is The Dragon would have been enough to make him believe, but it is important to realize just how bad that being The Dragon Reborn is supposed to be. He’ll reach for any straws to avoid this fate. Rand probably talked himself into believing that the Dark One showed up in a whole bunch of other male channelers’ dreams, too.
One little note, in case it was not clear: Rand and Ba’alzamon traveled into tel’aran’rhiod in their waking bodies during their fight. Perrin sees Rand there. Rand hears Perrin’s door gong in there, too.
One more chapter to go. We’ll see if we finish on a high note.