In this section, Rand has attracted the attention of powerful enemies. The cast of characters and the plot elements are revealed.
The threat from powerful enemies is aimed primarily at Rand, and tangentially includes his friends Mat and Perrin. Ba’alzamon has healed from his incineration at Rand’s hands. Wounds taken in the World of Dreams are inflicted on you when you wake up. Rand has repaid the scratches he received from their encounters a millionfold. Somehow Ba’alzamon escaped the World of Dreams before he could be killed. With clear indications that Darkfriends and Forsaken would pounce on any weakness detected in their fellows, Ba’alzamon must have found some way to heal himself that didn’t involve letting a Forsaken lay hands on him. Ouch!
Despite the raw burns still creasing his flesh, Ba’alzamon’s patience seems infinite. He lays out plans for his acolytes to direct the Dragon where he wants. Killing the Dragon is not the objective; he still wants to turn him. Having failed with direct intimidation, it looks like leverage is needed to make the Dragon bend knee.
Bors, a Questioner for the Children of the Light, is ordered to continue with his day job, to watch for the three young men, and to prevent word of the new arrivals on Toman Head from spreading. It’s all vague, so the reader is left pondering the mystery of what is happening there. The expectation is created that this secret will be revealed, and that it is related to the plan to turn the Dragon. Bors receives his most important orders in the form of Compulsion, a series of commands to be carried out only if certain circumstances arise. Orders too important for him to consciously know, and potentially reveal. Among them, let himself be killed if he meets a wolf, do not interfere with the Woman in White, if he encounters the Seanchan, they will know he is pledged to the Dark One, and will leave him be.
A more immediate threat comes from the Aes Sedai who may try to gentle Rand. The arrival of the most powerful person in the world, the Amyrlin Seat, results in Rand becoming trapped within the walls of Fal Dara. Realizing he may be in danger, he distances himself from his friends, demonstrating his willingness to make sacrifices to keep them safe. The willingness to care for others, not simply protect them, could be the most important of the Dragon’s traits. His propensity to try overcome obstacles on his own may prove to be his greatest flaw.
In particular, the reader learns of Rand’s affection for Egwene. While he is uncertain of how to proceed, his enemies seem likely to try to exploit this relationship. I’ll keep an eye open for hints that later events are based on attempts to do exactly that.
While Moiraine has left Rand alone to his great annoyance, Lan has filled the void and taken him under his wing, perhaps sensing a kindred spirit after their successful adventure in the Blight. Mat and Perrin’s unusual circumstances are also summarized in a concise paragraph for each. In fact, where The Eye of the World dribbled information out sparingly, this book dumps the known facts about characters, history and the One Power on the reader in haste, eager to get on with the tale.
The last major character, Padan Fain, unworriedly reveals clues to Rand about the secret he’s been keeping. He says Mordeth knows more than all of them. Is it true? Mordeth should be able to sense Shadowspawn, such as those outside the city walls coming to free him. He can sense the three Two Rivers men. He has conferred with Ba’alzamon. He was able to open the Waygate in Caemlyn with Mordeth’s knowledge. He knows a lot. I’ll watch for things he knows that can’t easily be explained with the resources we know he has at his disposal. Sensing Aes Sedai or the One Power may be among those, but that could be part of Ba’alzamon’s distilling of the Dragon’s essence, knowing that he is likely to be able to use the One Power.
The wind blowing out of the Blight exposed Rand to some danger during the swordplay training. The wind carries an odor, while Rand has an image of an ‘old grave fresh opened’. Soon after, making his way through the yard, his skin prickles, the odor returns, he hears sly laughter, and unseen eyes follow him. The image is a description that does more than describe what Rand smells; it tells us what has happened. An ancient grave has just been opened, and the Forsaken walk the world again. Fearless, Lanfear has already begun stalking Rand.
Almost all of the character motivations and important plot elements have been shown. The adventure is starting up quickly.
When presenting information that is crucial for the reader to know, present it concisely so it is well understood. Be less blunt for information the reader should be left wondering about.