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 7: Playing With Fire
In the morning, Egwene presents herself to the six Shae’en M’taal, Stone Dogs, guarding Rand’s chambers, with Elayne following and dragging her feet. Elayne is dressed in a silk dress, pulled low in the Tairen fashion, and she is wearing a necklace of sapphires as well as another strand of sapphires in her hair, that she has borrowed from Aviendha. Egwene, in contrast, wears a plain deep blue scarf around her shoulders. They claim that they need to check on his wounds. Gaul nods ascent, but tells them to be careful as Rand has already taken his temper out on a group of High Lords, throwing Torean out personally. One of the Aiel remarks about how far Torean slid across the tiles after being thrown by Rand. Egwene blinks at the image of Rand throwing someone, as she cannot ever remember him being violent, and she wonders to herself how much he has changed. The Aiel let them go in.
They enter, with some trepidation, and Egwene notices little evidence of last night’s attack aside from the absence of mirrors. Books lay everywhere and on everything, while Callandor sparkles atop a huge gilded and gaudy stand. Egwene thinks to herself that the stand is the ugliest thing she has ever seen decorating a room until she sees silver wolves savaging a stag on the mantle above the fireplace. Rand sits in a chair with a book in hand. He rises with a scowl upon their entry but changes his expression upon recognizing them. Egwene, actively looking for changes in Rand, notices the hardness in his face, the openness that had once been there faced, and even change in his movements. She thinks to herself thathe now moves like Lan and the Aiel. Rand initially apologizes, saying that he thought they were someone else, but then suspicion blooms on his face quickly after. He asks if Moiraine sent them to make him do what she wants.
Egwene: Don’t be a goose! I do not want you to start a war.
Elayne: We came to help you if we can.
Rand asks them about how they plan to help, rough in tone, but Egwene matches his tone and tells him she can remember when Nynaeve switched his bottom for helping Mat steal apple brandy. Rand finally relaxes for a moment and laughs, answering that she found them behind the stable and that their heads hurt so much from drinking that they did not feel her switch. Rand’s version of the story is not how Egwene recalls it. He then tells her that his switching was not at all like the time Egwene threw a bowl at Nynaeve’s head and got a switching of her own.
Rand: Light! When was that? Two years ago?
She cuts him off to say that they are not here to talk about old times while thinking to herself that Rand has the habit of remembering the most unfortunate things. Rand grins and asks if the women can help keep the High Lords in line, or with unwanted dreams, or with the Old Tongue. As Rand looks for a book, Egwene says she cannot help with that and shoots a look to Elayne to tell her to say the same. Rand sighs and says that it was too much to hope.
Egwene tells him that they are here to help him with the One Power, with channeling. Rand becomes suspicious again, and Egwene is unnerved by how quickly his mood changes. He says he has been told that a woman using saidar cannot teach a man how to wield saidin any more than a bird can teach a fish to fly. He asks them again if this is all part of some plot from Moiraine. He puts on a coat, ready to leave for another meeting with High Lords, telling them both that he rules Tear now and that he means to teach the High Lords that he does. Egwene thinks to herself that she remembers Rand holding a baby lamb, proud as a rooster for having driven off a wolf that tried to take it. Elayne speaks to him earnestly about their wish to help, so Rand agrees to stay and try to learn with them.
Elayne: No one sent us. No one. We came because we care for you. Perhaps it will not work but you can try. If we care enough to try, you can try, too. Is it so unimportant to you that you cannot spare us an hour? For your life?
Egwene embraces saidar and asks Rand if he sees or feels anything. She claims that she is now much stronger than Moiraine. Egwene channels hair fine flows of Air and Water and Spirit, the powers for Healing, and feels for Rand’s old injury from Falme. She recoils and her stomach churns as she feels as if all the darkness in the world had gathered at his side.
How could he bear the pain? Why was he not weeping?
Egwene, though shaken, goes on without a pause and says that Rand is as strong as she is. She asks what he feels and he replies that he cannot feel anything except goosebumps.
Rand: It’s not that I don’t trust you Egwene but I cannot help being nervous when a woman is channeling around me. I’m sorry.
With an effort, Egwene releases saidar. She steps close to him, tells him that she is not touching the source now, and asks if he still feels goosebumps. He says no, adding that it’s just because she told him. Abruptly he says that he started thinkin about it and he has the goosebumps again. Egwene smiles triumphantly and tells him that he can sense a woman embracing the source. She tells him Elayne is doing just that right now. Egwene asks Rand to embrace the male half of the Source. She is surprised and frustrated that she cannot tell that he has done as asked. She says that she thinks she should feel something, so Rand pinches their bottoms with the One Power.
Rand: You said you wanted to feel something and I just thought…
A moment later he roars in pain, grabbing his back side. He blames Egwene though Elayne is the one who gave him the pinch in return. Egwene estimates that Elayne doled out about one hundred for one.
Egwene tells Rand that she would have expected something childish like that, from Mat, and then she asks him to do something with the One Power that they might sense. He glares and Rand uses the Power again, lifting them off the ground and shielding them from saidar. Then he does many things at once, making the table legs dance, filling the hearth with fire, melting a sculpture into silver and gold threads.
Rand: Do something. Do something! Do you have any idea what it is like to touch saidin, to hold it, do you? I can feel the madness waiting, seeping into me!
Abruptly the dancing tables burst into flame, books spin in the air, and then the mattress erupts, showering feathers across the room like snow. Rand looks around and then releases the power. The shield on the two women vanishes and the fire disappears. Rand apologizes and tells them both that saidin runs wild sometimes. He jokes that he has now destroyed two mattresses in two days which may anger the majhere. He suggests that it might be best if they go. After Rand unshielded the two, they immediately embraced saidar. He senses the goosebumps on his own arms and assures them that he is not touching the Source anymore. Egwene tells him more gently than she feels that they are not done yet. Egwene realizes that for all the accolades of her strength in the Power, she is nowhere close to as strong in the One Power as Rand. She thinks that Nynaeve might come closer, though, if she was angry enough.
After Elayne also reminds him that he promised to try, he suggests that they all sit down. Egwene asks him to explain how he embraces the Source, step by step.
Rand: More like wrestling than embracing. First I imagine a flame and then I push everything into it – hate, fear, nervousness, everything. When they’re all consumed, there’s an emptiness, a Void, inside my head. I am in the middle of it but I am apart of whatever I’m concentrating on, too.
Egwene tells Rand that this sounds familiar and that she heard Tam al’Thor talk about a concentration trick he uses to win the archery competition every year during Bel Tine. Rand nods and tells them that Tam taught it to him, first, but shares that Lan also uses it. He then mentions Selene called it The Oneness. He says a good many people seem to know about it, whatever they call it. He shares that he found out for himself that when he was in the Void he could feel saidin, like a light just beyond the corner of his eye in the emptiness. Elayne shivers and says that emptiness sounds very little like what they do. Egwene disagrees and then explains how she embraces saidar, imagining herself as a flower, a rose bud, until she is the rosebud, and she insists that it is like Rand’s Void. She explains that she surrenders to the light of saidar. Rand says that you cannot surrender to saidin. He says you must take hold of it and wrestle it.
Rand: Egwene, if I surrendered to it, even for a minute, it would consume me. It’s like a river of molten metal, an ocean of fire, all the light of the sun gathered in one spot.
He says he must fight it to make it do what he wants and fight it to keep from being destroyed by it. He then agrees with what she says about how it feels to hold the power and be filled by it. He says that even with the taint, it feels like life is filling him, colors are sharper, smells clearer, and everything in general feels more real. He tells her that the Tower is right about the two forms of channeling being too different for one side to teach the other. Egwene does not give up though and asks if he can tells the flows apart – air, water, fire – and Rand answers that he sometimes can, but he cannot do it usually. He admits that very often, when he needs to do a thing he just does it, but only after does he understand the how of it.
Rand: It’s almost like remembering something I’ve forgotten but I can remember how to do it again. Most of the time.
As Rand explains how he created and extinguished the fire in his room, a few moments earlier, Egwene finally realizes that the two are too different for them to help Rand much. He asks if she is giving up but she says no. Rand dismisses them, claiming a meeting with the High Lords over taxes. He also mentions that they have Darkfriends to question. Egwene admits that they need to do this but decides now is the time to tell him their second reason for visiting. She thinks that this will hurt him and it is harder for her to do this than she expected.
Egwene: Rand, I cannot marry you.
Rand: I know.
Egwene: I do not mean to hurt you, really, I don’t, but I do not want to marry you.
Rand: I understand, Egwene. I know what I am. No woman could…
Egwene: You wool-brained idiot! This had nothing to do with you channeling. I do not love you, at least, not in the way to want to marry you.
Rand’s jaw drops, looking both surprised and hurt. She explains that they have grown apart and that while she loves him as a brother, probably more than a brother, she does not love him in the way to marry him. Rand manages a grin, calls himself a fool, and says he did not believe she could change, too. He tells her, looking relieved, that he loves her like a sister now. Egwene nearly smiles and thinks to herself that Rand is just putting on a brave face. She tells him she is glad he is taking it so well and then adds that she must go before kissing him on the cheek and telling him that he will find someone else.
Egwene thinks to herself that Rand is ready for Elayne to pick up, like a lost puppy, if she handles him well. Her thoughts then drift to what must be done about him, helping him with channeling and helping him with the wound on his side.
Everyone said Two Rivers men were stubborn but they cannot match Two Rivers women.
Ah, great chapter title. It was literal for Rand, but I think this is a metaphor for what Egwene just did.
Starting with the romance part of this, first, Egwene lets Rand go, aloud and to his face, but not inwardly. Even after telling him that she loves him like a brother, she is planning how best to help him face his future herself. She is not sharing that job inwardly with Elayne just yet. Her inward thoughts reflect a belief that Rand is hers and her job. Her inward thoughts about Rand and Elayne, in the future, are fleeting. She also completely and comedically refuses to believe that he let her go romantically, despite what he said.
I will maintain until proven otherwise that Egwene ended her romantic relationship with Rand, not because she actually wanted to, but because she thinks it is in Rand’s best interest. She is projecting that Rand did the same thing, with the same motivations, but we know from Rand’s POVs that he actually means it. Nothing from Egwene’s background prior to this plan with Elayne in the last chapter indicates that she *really* let Rand go romantically. If she is projecting here, with Rand, Egwene is not out of line for that projection. In addition to the history of their lives before leaving the Two Rivers, history reinforced in this chapter, Rand has also followed her across the continent, twice, and been part of efforts to rescue her twice.
If I’m right, then we’ll see Egwene – as she learns that Rand actually meant what he said here – demonstrating genuine hurt at some point later. Her hurt will likely be quite deep. It will be all the worse for her because of what happens in this chapter. She instigated their romantic end.
What else do we learn in this chapter? Rand is MUCH stronger than Elayne and Egwene in the One Power. As a reader, we already knew that, but it is demonstrated here and for the first time, I think. The Egwene/Elayne efforts to teach him were not completely fruitless. He learns that he can sense when a woman is embracing saidar. That’s a useful bit of knowledge.
It’s beginning to feel like the set-up for this book is now wrapping up. Hopefully we will see action sometime soon.