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 25: The Road to the Spear
NOTE: The following chapter summary comes from wot.fandom.com:
Rand enters the glass columns ter’angreal in Rhuidean. He wonders what the ter’angreal really does. Rand notices Muradin a few paces ahead, staring off into the distance with his mouth quivering. Rand wonders why they did not see Muradin before if they were so close behind him. Rand takes another step.
Point of view: Mandein
Setting: Outside Rhuidean
Rand feels himself seeing through another man’s eyes. He sees an unfogged Rhuidean in the distance with only a few structures started. He realizes that he is in the body of Mandein, a young Aiel sept chief. Rand feels his consciousness merge with Mandein’s. Mandein sees the glass columns and a huge tree in the middle of the city. He sees the Jenn Aiel come out of Rhuidean carrying two palanquins. Mandein’s wife, Sealdre, tells him he must agree to do as the Jenn Aiel ask. Sealdre had dreams that said that the septs whose chiefs do not agree will die off and be forgotten. Mandein knows that the Wise Ones‘ dreams are true when they are sure. Mandein takes a small escort of his sept’s warriors with him as he approaches Rhuidean, leaving the rest with Sealdre. He tells his escort to stop and unveils. Approaching Rhuidean alone, he sees many other sept chiefs approach also and the situation is tense. Many of the septs are at war with the others. Should fighting break out, it would become a furious melee as the various escorts descend and get involved.
He sees the Jenn Aiel lower the two palanquins which hold two Aes Sedai who must be extremely old. He meets Dermon who introduces the ancient Aes Sedai Mordaine and Narisse. They speak for Rhuidean and the Jenn Aiel; Mandein questions Dermon on why they have been summoned. Dermon only asks why the Aiel do not carry swords to which Mandein can only say that it is forbidden; Mandein does not actually know why it is forbidden. The Aes Sedai both comment sadly that the Aiel do not know and yet they must know. Mandein asks again the purpose of this and Dermon explains that whoever wishes to lead among the Aiel must come to Rhuidean and learn the history of the Aiel and why swords are forbidden.
Charendin, another sept chief, steps forward and asks if one only needs to come to Rhuidean to become the leader of the Aiel. One of the Aes Sedai clarifies that he who will lead the Aiel will come later; she then speaks the lines of the Prophecy of Rhuidean. Charendin is skeptical and thinks the Aes Sedai seek to control the Aiel, but the Aes Sedai rebut him sharply and point out that their days are numbered and they will soon die. Even the Jenn Aiel will soon die off and be no more. That is why the chiefs among the Aiel must come to Rhuidean to learn and remember the history of the Aiel. Mandein asks a final question – why do the Jenn build Rhuidean when they know they are doomed? Dermon replies only that it is their purpose to build Rhuidean, as they had searched for it for many years. Mandein acknowledges the Jenn as Aiel and, remembering his wife’s words, agrees to enter Rhuidean unarmed.
Point of view: Rand
Rand returns to himself. He tries to make sense of what he saw; he is confused as to whether the Jenn were Aiel or not. They looked like Aiel and dressed like Aiel without veils. But they did not carry weapons, which does not seem like Aiel at all. He seems to be significantly deeper into the columns than he was before and Muradin is closer. Muradin is now frowning heavily. Rand steps forward again.
Point of view: Rhodric
Setting: South of Kinslayer’s Dagger
Rand is now Rhodric, a young Aiel who is not yet twenty years old. Rhodric is standing among some hills south of a mountain range near the Spine of the World. He is watching Aiel dig wells below him, overseen by his greatfather Jeordam. The land is parched and finding water is difficult. He remembers that the world used to be much greener and hopes the rains will come again soon. He sees Garam, son of the chief of the nearby town, approach and speaks with him. They are the first people to allow the Aiel access to water without fighting.
Garam has come to report to Jeordam that the Jenn Aiel are moving east, across the Spine of the World. The Aiel follow and guard the Jenn Aiel, but Rhodric doesn’t really know why. Four Aes Sedai have joined the Jenn recently and they make Garam uneasy. The Aes Sedai make Rhodric uneasy too, because stories said that the Aiel had failed the Aes Sedai in some way but not how. Garam tries discreetly to get Jeordam to attack them with him but Jeordam is unmoved. Garam speaks of his father’s Aes Sedai advisor who tells him that they must leave these hills and that the rivers will flow again soon; she says that they will build a great city beside one of the rivers. Garam notes that the Spine is also called the Dragonwall, to which Jeordam says only that it is a fitting name. Rhodric knows the Aiel are secretly called the People of the Dragon, but does not know what it means.
Point of view: Rand
Rand realizes he was seeing a time from before the Aiel went to the Three-fold Land. The glass columns are brighter than ever. He is closer yet to Muradin who seems to be struggling to continue on. Rand moves forward.
Point of view: Jeordam
Setting: Somewhere in the Westlands
Jeordam is eighteen and does not believe the stories of the Breaking. There are fewer than two thousand Aiel and many more Jenn Aiel. Jeordam knows it is his duty to protect the Jenn. Some Jenn have come to ask for help. One of the Jenn argue with Jeordam, saying that they are the only true Aiel and that he has abandoned the Way. Jeordam retorts that he is Aiel because he has never held a sword. A pretty woman named Morin stops the arguing and Jeordam takes them to his father Lewin. Morin explains that men who traded with them later took back the goods and stole more besides. Some Jenn were killed and women were carried off, including Morin’s young daughter. Lewin promises to get their women back and offers the Jenn the opportunity to go with him on the rescue, but they must be willing to defend themselves and thus will never be allowed back into the Jenn. All the men, except the one who argued with Jeordam, take Lewin’s proffered spears and then Morin takes one also, surprising everyone. She will recover her daughter herself.
Morin has trouble with her spear due to her dress and Jeordam asks her to stay behind and let them rescue her daughter. She refuses and Jeordam tells her to wear clothes like his cadin’sor. He then shortens the spear for her, making her the first Maiden; she is infuriated that her husband will not do anything to get their daughter back, speaking only of the Way of the Leaf. All he cares about are the three Trees of Life and finding a place of safety to plant them. Morin tells Jeordam that she dreamed of him and that he will make a fine father. Jeordam thinks again about what he did with the spear and realizes the shorter spear is superior because of increased agility and would give him a decisive advantage against a swordsman. The short spear later becomes the standard weapon for all Aiel.
Point of view: Rand
Lights are flashing through the glass columns now, blindingly bright. Rand is almost next to Muradin who has teeth bared and is snarling. Rand knows the glass columns are showing him the lost history of the Aiel and each step takes him further back in time. He moves inexorably forward.
Point of view: Lewin
Setting: Somewhere in the Westlands
Lewin is with other young men, watching a camp of four men who abducted some Aiel women. With him are Gearan, Luca, Charlin, and Alijha. Everyone is wearing a veil to protect themselves from the dust caused by the constant blowing wind. He is thirsty but they are only allowed to drink water when they have their meals; the land is very dry and hot. He vaguely remembers when the land was wetter and less hostile. Charlin’s sister Colline and Lewin’s sister Maigran are among those who have been abducted into the camp. Lewin remembers what happened back at their wagons when they found the girls’ belongings scattered about after an obvious struggle. The Aiel mourned their loss but quickly went on as usual, with Lewin’s greatfather Adan only caring about keeping faith with the Aes Sedai which Lewin has never seen. Adan cares about keeping the Aiel alive as a people, but he is not focused on any one Aiel. Adan would have stopped them if he had known about this.
The group is unskilled at moving quietly and as they reach the camp, one of the bandits wakes. Lewin tries to get his sister to run but Maigran only stares back at him blankly. As Lewin is about to be killed, Charlin tackles the man attacking him. As another attacks Charlin with a sword, Lewin grabs a kettle and swings it at the man, bludgeoning him. In a blind panic, Lewin gropes around for a stick to parry another incoming sword and is horrified to find that he has skewered the man with a spear. After he comes out of his daze, he realizes that all of the bandits are dead by his hand or those of his companions; unfortunately Charlin is mortally wounded and dies. They decide that they might as well take what is in the camp with them when they return with the girls, since it was all likely stolen anyway. They gather up the metal things such as cookpots and knives which are hard to get. Alijha moves to grab one of the swords but Lewin stops him, telling him that a sword is not permitted by the Way since it is a weapon only for killing men with no other uses. A spear can be used to put food in a pot. Everyone is quiet as they return to the wagons carrying Charlin’s corpse on a makeshift stretcher.
They are met outside the camp by Adan, Colline’s mother Nerrine and Lewin’s mother Saralin. Adan questions them and becomes very angry when Maigran says they killed the bandits and Lewin admits that it is true. Adan angrily yells that there is no reason to kill anyone ever and that they must accept what comes. Any hardship is just a test for their faithfulness. Adan says they are Da’shain Aiel no longer. When Lewin appeals to his mother, she tells him to hide his face since she had a son with that face but she does not wish to see it on a killer. The wind rises again, picking up dust, and Lewin veils his face. He vehemently insists that he is Aiel.
Point of view: Rand
Rand tries to make sense of what he just saw. Lewin was Aiel but did not carry any weapons and did not know how to use them. Rand is now almost abreast of Muradin who is snarling and sweating heavily. Rand continues moving forward.
This chapter and the next one are arguably the best writing done by Jordan in the entire series. Jordan masterfully gives us the history of the Aiel in a really compelling way. The ter’angreal columns let Rand (and the readers) see the key moments of this history and imbue it with a lot of emotion.
I’ll kind of go through what happens in each scene, since I’m not sure that it is abundantly clear each time.
In the first scene, Rand witnesses the beginning of the Aiel tradition of sending would-be clan chiefs to Rhuidean. We do not really know when this happened, in relation to events like The Trolloc Wars and the fall of Manetheren, except that it was at some point prior. Since all of these events seem to be *after* the worst of the Breaking (theS Dragonwall mountains are there then and still exist now), we can infer that the Aiel didnot move into the Waste until probably about 200-300 years after The Dark One and the Forsaken were trapped.
That means that the “modern” Aiel go back at least two thousand years and probably closer to 2,500 years. It’s probably within reason to think that an Aes Sedai from the time of the Breaking might live another 400-500 years, and impart what she knows to the Jenn before dying.
The Jenn Aiel host the rest of the Aiel and want to pass on their true history to them. This is important because the Jenn are about to die out. It has now been long enough since the Breaking that the Aiel who are not Jenn do not know their own history. In this moment, we meet two ancient Aes Sedai among the Jenn – Mordaine and Narisse Sedai. Given the Aiel ignorance of their own history, and what follows in Rand’s future visions, we have to assume that this moment is hundreds of years after the Breaking and that these women are hundreds of years old. They do not necessarily need to have been alive *since* the Breaking, but given that the rest of the Aes Sedai seem to almost forget the existence of the Aiel during that span of time, it seems likely that they are that old.
In the next scene, Rand sees the moment in time when the Aiel – and the Jenn – move into the Waste. Four Aes Sedai have recently joined the Jenn. One group of people elect to help the Aiel during their wanderings, and these people are seemingly the only people who ever have since the Breaking. The Aiel group Rand sees has been where they are (dry land around Kinslayer’s Dagger) for a long time, and away from the Wetlands, but hasn’t moved east into the actual Waste yet. It appears the Aiel have spent many years on the edge of what is now the boundary between Caihrien and the Waste. The Aiel and Jenn have been in separate camps for long enough, during this scene, that the Aiel no longer really remember their historical relationship with the Jenn. They guard them, but they do not know why they do so.
Decades prior, somewhere in the Wetlands, the Aiel number around two thousand and the Jenn greatly outnumber them. We see here the beginning of the Maidens of the Spear. A Jenn Aiel woman joins the Aiel to recover her child who has been kidnapped. We learn in this scene that the Jenn Aiel practiced The Way of the Leaf (like the Tinkers.) This is also the moment when the Aiel adopt the short spear as their primary weapon. One really subtle but important nuance in this “leap” of Rand is that the Aiel *kind of* still think that they follow The Way (or, at least that they are Aiel) because they have never held a sword. It’s not a giant step from “no violence of any kind” to “no intentional violence” to “no weapons that can *only* be used for violence.”
The next Aiel ancestor that Rand lands in, here, is the son of a Jenn Aiel man, Lewin. (Lewin is the father of the man Rand leaped into last time.) We see Lewin cast out of the Jenn Aiel and the beginning of the spear-carrying Aiel. Lewin gives the initial reasoning for why spears are okay but swords are not.
Jordan really masterfully tells a story here of how one group of people can become two almost opposite groups of people in the span of several generations. Lewin is essentially the father of the modern Aiel and for better or worse, his approach to the world proved to be popular with the Jenn. In the span of a generation, he and his fellow outcasts grew to a large number of two thousand. I also really love the approach to explaining how small things can become symbols of identity under the right setting. The Jenn Aiel work clothes, cadin’sor, became all but an Aiel uniform. The inadvertent use of a spear, once, morphed into a self-justifying argument against swords for an entire people.
I also appreciate the way that Jordan treats time in a realistic way. Culture can change rapidly in a short time, especially when nudged by small self-justifications. Common knowledge can become lost rapidly, in a matter of decades, if it ceases to be taught or talked about.
By the time we reach Rand’s present, this history is hard to absorb for some of the Aiel. If you view your people as the world’s best warriors, it creates an identity crisis for some to learn that your people ever lived as extreme pacifists, and that they dishonorably (arguably) abandoned that pacifism. This is why not all Aiel make it through the glass columns. The ter’angreal seems to sort out those who can handle the truth from those who cannot. The ancient Aes Sedai seemed to program the ter’angreal for that purpose, too.
All in all, this is a great chapter, and I’ll have some more broad scope thoughts after the next chapter when the scene is completed.