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 8: Hard Heads
Elayne sees Rand muttering to himself after Egwene leaves. He seems not to notice that she is still in the room. When Rand turns and sees her, he stammers and apologizes.
Rand: I am not as much of a fool as I sound, my Lady. It isn’t every day that someone tells you they don’t love you, my Lady.
Elayne: If you call me that again, I shall call you My Lord Dragon, and curtsey. Even the Queen of Andor might curtsey to you, and I am only Daughter Heir.
Rand tells her not to do that, and she says she will not, if he calls her by her name. She asks him if what Egwene told him hurt him much. He stammers again and says yes, some, but that he told her the full truth when he said to Egwene that he did not love her, either. He speculates that she did not believe him, adding that he did not want to believe it of her, either. Abruptly, Rand offers Elayne a flower. She is confused, so he scoops a handful of feathers from the now tattered mattress in his room. Rand explains that he made a flower from feathers the night before, for the woman in charge of the rooms in the Stone, and he says she was so pleased with it that you would have thought he gave her the Stone itself. Then he promises Elayne that hers will be better. Rand stares at the feathers in his hand, for long moments, before letting them fall. He drops them and says flowers are no fit gift for her. Elayne recognizes that he had tried to touch saidin but failed. He masks his disappointment by giving her a bundle of cloth. Elayne accepts the cloth, and takes the feathers also, because Rand had wanted them to be a flower.
Elayne cannot hold back her reason for visiting alone, any longer, and asks Rand if he likes her. Then she tells him that she is more than fond of him, and when he admits he feels the same way, she asks him to kiss her. After he initially protests that they are not even betrothed, she says that in Caemlyn one must not be betrothed to a girl, to kiss her, and then she muses about whether he knows how. Rand interrupts her musing by kissing her vigorously. After, he apologizes for interrupting her and tells her that he is a bckwards shepherd. She tells him in reply that he is uncouth and notes that he did not shave this morning.
Elayne begins thinking of Berelain and notes obliquely that she expects Rand will not lack for company after she leaves Tears. She reminds him that some women see a man with their heart while others see no more than a bauble to wear. She tells him that she sees with her heart and adds that she will come back. Rand initially looks confused, but then alarmed, and Elayne thinks she has said too much too fast. Before Rand can address Berelain, she diverts him by noting that he has not tried to frighten her away by telling her what he is. She advises him not to start now. Rand abruptly becomeos suspicious and asks if she and Egwene planned this together.
Elayne: How can you even consider such a thing? Do you think we would pass you around like a package? You think a good deal of yourself. There is such a thing as being over proud.
She diverts Rand again by asking if he is sorry for what he did to her and Egwene. Rand explains that he did not mean to but adds that Egwene has always been able to make him angry without half trying. He notes that this is no excuse. She asks if he is sorry for the pinch, but his face reddens and then he tells her no, and that they both deserved it. Elayne channels a bit of the Healing that she knows to sooth the hurt from the pinch she gave him in return. She explains that she did this because he was honest.
Gaul knocks on the door then enters announcing the High Lords. As they enter, Elayne leaves. She glances back from the doorway and notices that Rand, among the High Lords, has a commanding presence, much like Gareth Bryne. She leaves thinking that she has four days left to question Amico and Joiya and four days left to twine herself so thoroughly around Rand’s thoughts that he has no room left for Berelain.
Rand watches Elayne go with wonder in his eyes thinking that dreams coming true, if only this much, makes him uneasy. He thinks to himself about Elayne while the High Lords talk. He cannot believe that Elayne and Egwene would have planned out Egwene handing Rand over to Elayne, so despite his intuition that this is what happened, Rand decides it must have just been a coincidence. Sunamon Haellin brings Rand’s attention back to the meeting about taxes while the other High Lords ignore the damage done to his chambers. Rand notices how Carleon and Tedosian never meet each other’s eye, and attributes the fact he notices this to a note he received from Thom. Despite their protests, Rand orders them to lower taxes. Meilan objects and says that this will set a bad precedent, noting that the people will riot if and when taxes ever need to be raised again. When Rand points out that the people will riot if taxes are now lowered, the High Lords assure him that the riots can be put down.
Rand stands in front of Callandor in order to remind them of who he is and the power he can wield. His thoughts continue to drift back to the earlier conversation with Egwene and Elayne. He chides himself for being hurt by Egwene’s words when they mirror his own feelings. Rand sees three books on the floor and thinks to himself that his plans are hidden within them. One of the High Lords tells Rand that there are too many farmers, and upon seeing his glare, hurriedly explains that the reason is Cairhein being unable to buy excess Tairen grain.
Rand asks them what will happen when Cairhein is able to buy grain again, and one of the High Lords assures him that Cairhein will not be ableto buy for two or three years, even if their civil war ends tomorrow. They tell him that Tear has always sold grain to Cairhein. Rand knows that “always” means only for the twenty years since the end of the Aiel War. He thinks about dealings between the Watch Hill, Deven Ride, and Emond’s Field, and applies those lessons here to Tear. Rand then orders the High Lords to offer the grain to Illian or Altara with help from Mayene ships in return for leaving the small nation alone as he promised. As he gives these instructions, he thinks to himself that he likes both Elayne and Min and cannot decide between the two of them. Tedosian objects to relying on Mayene ships. Rand takes a deep breath and the High Lords tense. Rand thinks it always comes to using his temper. He tries to reason with them and they resist. He remembers that Thom said the High Lords have heads as hard as the Stone. With a firm and angry voice, Rand orders the High Lords to cut taxes and to make plans to sell grain to Illian or Altara.
The High Lords listened with false smiles and grinding teeth, but they listened.
Egwene is thinking of Joiya and Amica as Mat falls in beside her. He glances at her once or twice, but does not speak. He seems troubled. She thinks his silence is not like him and unsettling. Finally she asks him about the troubles from the previous night and Mat brushes it off. She pretends to believe him and then notes that she and Nynaeve have not seen him much. He tells her that he has been busy, and she dismissively asks if that means he has been dicing. He tells her cards while he flirts with a maid at least ten years older than Nynaeve. He reminds her that the last time he saw them, they tied him up with the One Power so that they could rummage through his room. He adds that they are always with Elayne and Moiraine and begins to stay he does not like Aes Sedai before cutting himself short to say he does not like taking up her time and noting that she is busy questioning darkfriends. Egwene replies that they were only taking back the letter from the Amyrlin that they had given him, and that the letter was only supposed to have been a loan. Mat reminds her that he does not remember them saying it was a loan and says that they could have just asked for it as he had no use for it anyway. Egwene refrains from pointing out that they had asked because she does not want a sulky departure or an argument.
Finally, Mat sits down and tells her that he needs some advice. When she asks what he wants advice about, Mat tells her he does not know. She notes internally that htey are sitting net to a balcony and thinks about pushing him over the side, but decides the fall is too far and that he might hurt a gardener below or a bush. She tells him that she hopes he is not thinking of leaving and he replies that he could not leave even if Moiraine told him he could. He tells Egwene that he just wants to know what is going to happen. Finally he brings up the holes in his memory and how he sometimes finds himself speaking the Old Tongue despite not knowing it. Egwene suggests Moiraine but Mat instantly rejects the idea. He asks if she has learned anything in the White Tower yet that might help him. She apologizes and he laughs. It reminds her of his laugh from their childhood, whenever his grandest expectations had gone astray.
She finally tells him of the twisted redstone doorframe ter’angreal and how it works. She tells him that there are true answers to your questions that you can receive on the other side, but she also fiercely warns him about the dangers in using this, too. Egwene insists to him that he needs to ask Moiraine before he uses it and he tells her that the last thing he wants to do is get Moiraine involved. She tells him it is the only chance she knows of, for his questions, and he replies that it is no chance at all and that she can blot it out of her mind.
Egwene feels sympathy for Mat and wishes to put an arm around him, but she knows that if she did this he would likely make a joke at her expense and try to goose her. Finally she asks him what he will do and he says he will just play cards – if anyone will play with him. He sees another maid walking past and eyes her, as he tells Egwene that he will find something to take up his time.
Mat asks Egwene whether she ever wishes to be back at home and that none of this had ever happened. Egwene is startled at this question coming from Mat but quickly says no and Mat agrees. He asks her not to mention him asking for advice to Moiraine. She tells him that she will not, as long as he promises her in turn that he will not go into the ter’angreal without asking Moiraine for permission first. Mat promises not to go near it unless his life depends on it.
Does this chapter title refer to just the High Lords? To Rand and Elayne? Egwene and Mat? It seems strange to name this section after the High Lords alone, as they play little part in this chapter.
I really enjoy Kate Reading’s narration for the Elayne section of this chapter. She captures wonderfully (and relatably) the interplay between Elayne’s outward calm actions with Rand and the anxious lovesick sarcastic inner monologue she is having with herself throughout.
The Elayne and Rand “romance” has the feel of one from a Victorian England novel. Elayne could be a character conjured up by Jane Austen or one of the Bronte sisters – at least here. “We have briefly spoken only a few times but we are deeply in love now, though we talk about it in repressed tones.” Instant love is one of the criticisms of Jordan’s writing but it is not unique to him. This chapter is probably some of the better execution for that relationship-formation style in the entire series.
What do I think of the Rand and Elayne pairing? They’re basically two young attractive people who find each other very attractive. At this point, that’s the entire depth of things. Practically, I suspect that dating someone who has been trained to govern a nation might be very useful for shepherd Rand. Dating someone who may eventually be one of the most powerful female channelers alive should also be useful. My biggest gripe with the Rand-Elayne situation has been Elayne’s dogged pursuit of Rand since she met him. She started trying to steal Rand from Egwene from the moment she met Egwene. That was weird. It’s still weird.
In the Rand POV section… does it seem like he’s a little bit too natural at governing? He’s been in charge of Tear for a couple of weeks and already has a handle on trade and tax policy? He sees truths for Tear that the High Lords do not? Why? He’s not only able to see them, he does so while completely distracted with his own love life? Who has been teaching him? We are led to believe that this is innate and that he is pulling form experiences in the Two Rivers. I think this scene would work better for me with some throwaway lines about assistance from Moiraine or Lan or Thom on issues of policy.
The Egwene and Mat interaction is a lot of fun because it provides an example of two people who clearly know each other well… and who also nevertheless have massive blind spots about each other. Egwene is correct that Mat will complain loudly abut small things and hardly mention major problems. She clearly knows him well to pick up on that. But she does not see Mat’s good heart, nor does he see hers, and that’s why there’s always so much rancor between them.
The notable thing in this section is that we can now be certain that Mat is going to go through the ter’angreal doorway. That’s how writing works.