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 23: Beyond the Stone
NOTE: I decided that this chapter was far too long to recap myself. The following chapter summary comes from wot.fandom.com:
Rand‘s channeling at the Portal Stone in Tear has brought them to the side of a mountain, Chaendaer, near Rhuidean. Rhuidean is engulfed in fog that is unaffected by the desert, giving the appearance of a city in clouds. Mat is elated that they all arrived safely and without any incidents. Rand seems tired and has to be helped to his feet by Lan. Moiraine is angry with Rand for overextending himself bringing all of the Aiel and their pack animals, but she does wash away some of his fatigue. Rand is angry that Moiraine Healed him without asking first. Their surprise appearance has brought the Aiel out from two camps, veiling their faces and preparing to fight. A Wise One from a third camp reminds them of the Peace of Rhuidean, where all pledge to not fight those who travel to or from the city.
Aviendha tries to sneak off, carrying her fifth from the Stone of Tear, but Seana quickly tells her to stay. Rhuarc embraces his wife, Amys, who knew that he would arrive today. This tells Egwene that the letter Moiraine received from the Wise Ones specified that she would arrive today. Heirn and Couladin approach Rhuarc and Heirn subtly indicates he came to protect Rhuarc from the Shaido, as explained by Lan. Moiraine is surprised by Lan’s knowledge of the Aiel. Lan quickly gives water to Egwene and Moiraine to protect them from the desert. Rhuarc finally addresses Couladin and asks whether the Shaido are present so that one of them can become the new clan chief, and Couladin confirms that his brother Muradin has gone to Rhuidean. Should he fail to return, Couladin himself will go, but the Bair interjects and points out that the Wise Ones must give permission first. Couladin insists that it is his right to go, but Bair says that it is his right to ask to go; she does not think he has the strength and will likely not be given permission. Couladin, embarrassed, can only shout that his brother will succeed and return as clan chief.
Amys asks to see Rand and he formally requests permission to go to Rhuidean. His request is granted by Amys, Bair, Melaine and Seana, while Couladin vehemently objects to a wetlander receiving permission. Rand believes his mother was Aiel, but he is told that his father was. Egwene does not know what to make of this news. Suddenly Mat is there also asking to go to Rhuidean to everyone’s surprise. This enrages Couladin who attacks Mat, but he is stopped by Amys and Melaine who channel to fling him away with the Power, surprising Egwene. Couladin, Heirn and Rhuarc are dismissed by the Wise Ones and told to go to their tents. The Wise Ones look at Mat and refuse him, as he has no Aiel ancestry. But Rand tells them that Mat can come with him. The Wise Ones have a short discussion about Rand and Aiel culture and change their minds, giving Mat permission to go with Rand. Rand is instructed to enter Rhuidean’s heart. They can take no weapons, food or water. Rand leaves his belt knife and angreal, while Mat starts pulling out his hidden knives and ends with an impressive pile. After they are instructed not to speak of what they see at Rhuidean, Rand and Mat depart on foot.
Amys addresses Lan as Aan’allein and sends him to Rhuarc, leaving only the Wise Ones with Egwene, Aviendha and Moiraine. Moiraine asks about the name they gave to Lan and Amys explains that they know and respect Lan as the last of the Malkieri, the man who fights his own war against the Shadow; they knew that if Moiraine would come to Rhuidean, Lan almost certainly would as well. This troubles Moiraine deeply because it means that there was a possibility that Lan would not come with Moiraine. Bair summons Aviendha over to begin her training as a Wise One apprentice; Egwene realizes that Aviendha can channel and has the spark in her. This realization unlocks in Egwene the ability to recognize other channelers. The Wise Ones know Moiraine had wanted to make Aviendha a novice of the White Tower; they criticize the Tower’s training and say they will do a better job. Aviendha is made to toss away her weapons and strip off her clothes. Then she is told to go to Rhuidean and find three rings, which Egwene realizes is a ter’angreal, and step through one of them to see images from her future. The Wise Ones all give Aviendha some encouraging parting words and Egwene is reminded of her test for Accepted. Aviendha runs down the slope to the fog shrouded city.
Egwene finally gets the chance to introduce herself and expresses her desire to learn. Bair says that they can now slow down; they rushed before because they needed to take action to send Rand where he needed to go before Couladin or anyone else could do harm to him. Aviendha likewise needed to be sent to Rhuidean as soon as possible because she had delayed so long before starting her Wise One training. Now they invite Egwene and Moiraine into the tents for water and shade. They exchange formal greetings and the Wise Ones welcome them to chat as first-sisters would. Egwene asks about the servants that served wine and water and Melaine almost chokes on her wine. She is told they are not servants but gai’shain. Warriors captured in battle are to serve a year and a day based on a complex system of honor and duty the Aiel call ji’e’toh.
Moiraine asks about the letter she received in Tear. Melaine tells her that if Rand had not come, he would have died and so would the Aiel. If Moiraine had not come Rand would have died. If Lan had not come Moiraine would have died. She starts to say what would happen if Moiraine does not go through the rings but then realizes that was not to be spoken of yet. Seana tries to cover for Melaine and explains that Tel’aran’rhiod only tells of possible futures. Moiraine then starts speculating on the nuances of words from the Old Tongue such as the name Aiel, which means the dedicated, but stronger. Moiraine wonders what the Aiel are dedicated to. Then there is the Jenn Aiel, which means the true dedicated, only stronger still. The Wise Ones go very still and stare at Moiraine like statues. Egwene tries to change the subject but then Moiraine gets up and begins to strip so that she can go to Rhuidean like Aviendha. The Wise Ones are annoyed that Moiraine was told before she asked to go as they had foreseen; this subtlety may change everything or it may change nothing, it is impossible to know. Moiraine asks them to stop Lan from following her as she knows he will want to.
Egwene asks whether she needs to go to Rhuidean too since everyone else is going but is promptly shut down. She asks the Wise Ones to begin instructing her about Tel’aran’rhiod and dreamwalking and Bair obliges, but Amys says that she must obey their instructions completely and not return to Tel’aran’rhiod until they say she can. Egwene agrees and Bair starts lecturing her about the subject in general; she is expected to remember everything after being told once and will be sent to scrub pots should she fail to do so.
This chapter is from Egwene’s point of view. As her thoughts do not touch any romantic interest in Rand, or a lack of said interest. Jordan continues carefully to avoid this topic altogether – at least from within Egwene’s mind. I continue to believe that is purposeful.
I enjoyed the POV. We get to know Egwene a lot better from inside her head, especially while she is a fish out of water. We observe her mind is working quickly to make sense of her new surroundings. In trying to come up with a literary comparison for Egwene’s blossoming personality, I keep landing on Hermione Granger. Like Hermione, Egwene is a competitive, try-hard, and eager learner, who is sometimes too certain of herself and in what she thinks that she knows. We see that in this chapter in her reaction to the revelation about Rand’s parentage and we see it in her insistence with the Aiel that they begin training her immediately, despite their admonition that her training wait a few hours. She is stubborn, just as Nynaeve and apparently all Two Rivers residents are, but Egwene is also quick to embrace change if reason or circumstances make a good appeal.
This chapter sets up the Shaido as the bad guy clan in the Aiel. We already herd Rhuarc talking badly about them. Couladin is not presented in a positive manner. Their clan name is a clue, too, inasmuch as Shaido and Shadow are intentionally similar. (You don’t name a clan “the Shaido,” in a world where the bad guys are “the shadow” if you’re planning to portray them in a positive way.)
We know (or think we know) from Tam’s fever dream that Rand’s mother was a Maiden of the Spear… but here we learn that Rand’s mother was not Aiel. Rand’s biological father was Aiel, though. Interesting.
I wonder if Moiraine would have asked to go to Rhuidean but for it being mentioned? The most likely reason for her to have made that request would be related to her own trip through the red stone doorway. Alternatively maybe she would have insisted upon going eventually anyway, based on further conversation. We’ll likely never know.
Is it a surprise that the Wise Ones can channel? Not to me. A theme of the book series to this point is that the White Tower is doing a poor job of recruitment. They missed every girl in the Two Rivers who can channel, for generations. None of the Aiel are in the White Tower, so it stands to reason some of them can channel. We know from our recent Sea Folk experience that they have / hide channelers from the White Tower.
I really enjoy the first true introduction to the Aiel. We get some sense of their politics, we get a taste of their culture, and we get a look at their sense of humor. With Egwene as a stand-in for the readers, the Waste really does feel *foreign* in a way that Emond’s Field and other places we have visited within the series do not.
My two favorite things about this chapter: 1) Lan is a legend beyond the Dragonwall, with his own title among the Aiel – Aan’allein. 2) Moiraine’s Old Tongue monologue about the Aiel, and the Jenn Aiel. She gets the unflappable Wise Ones off-balance and then gets them to agree that she should go to Rhuidean before they rebalance (though I think she was going to be allowed to go anyway.) Either way, the mystery of the Aiel’s history deepens and grows more compelling.