In this section, the three ta’veren find mysteries and revelations.
The Rhuidean sequence carries a strange sense of dread and destiny, slowly revealed to the reader. First is the city that no one will speak of. Second is the secret about it that is held by clan chiefs and Wise Ones. Third is that the city should not be there, the Aiel do not live in cities. Fourth is that Rhuidean cannot even be visited in tel’aran’rhiod. Fifth is the strange fog that envelops Rhuidean, hiding its secrets in the waking world. Sixth is its architecture, designed for grandeur and not the practical aspects of city living. Seventh is the plaza filled with objects of the One Power, each one unknowable and lost. Eighth is the Tree of Life, and the glass columns. Up until this moment, everything about Rhuidean is couched in mystery, little of it making sense, all of it ominous. Memories of the ruins of Shadar Logoth come to mind, even in the absence of a stated comparison. Many details have been revealed, but there are precious few links to enable readers to make sense of them.
Mat’s discovery of the second redstone ter’angreal is climatic. This is why he has come to Rhuidean. Mat has unfinished business with the Aelfinn, and now he can resolve it. The moment when the unexpected result is revealed drives the reader eagerly onward: “Wherever this was, it was not where he had been.” The use of simple words, lacking detail and vague in meaning, draws out the surprise. The Eelfinn says “a very long time”, establishing the first link to Mat’s earlier experience even as the new locale and different species makes clear that this experience will be different. In sequences where strange or alien experiences take place, some links or reference points to the familiar are required. The selection of these signposts and whether they are placed early or late will affect whether the sequence is mysterious, horrific, humourous, or some other outcome.
Rand’s experiences in the glass columns are my favorite of any fiction. Each short sequence shown stands on its own yet is linked to the others and to the main story in a well-crafted chain. The first link to the familiar and the main story in the present is the sight of Muradin several steps ahead of him. The strangeness is in Muradin’s angry reaction to what he is seeing. Readers may be reminded of the testing for Accepted since that is what was described to Aviendha.
Rand is first shown inside, but not controlling a body. The owner of the body is someone else. Rand eventually merges with the body’s owner, separateness fading. He becomes Mandein, strengthening the reader’s interest in this new character’s fate. It is established that this character is a sept chief, a link to the familiar. Further drawing the reader in, immediately a need is established. He must agree. The sequence would not work as well if these elements were presented later, or if they were not linked to Rand. A story about the newcomer Mandein is not as interesting as a story about Rand reliving a vital part of Mandein’s life, even if it does reveal interesting facts about the past. To further maintain the empathy with each new character presented, a reminder that each one is linked to Rand comes from the short interludes when Rand reflects on what he has seen. Eventually the reader understands that the visions of the past follow bloodlines from father to son over several centuries, and logically, since Rand and his father are Aiel, this is not only Aiel history, but family history. Each vision thus helps Rand anchor his identity, which has been cut loose from his links to Tam al’Thor. The moment when the reader understands the bloodlines, and later their link to Rand, is one of several climatic revelations in this sequence.
Each story is linked to the one before it by several elements.
The very next paragraph throws out a lot of information designed to draw the reader in. I categorize it below, because these components will show up in each of the visions in the glass columns.
Revelation: The Jenn built Rhuidean
Mystery: Why do the Aiel avoid the Jenn? Who are the Jenn? Why did they build an indefensible city?
Link to present day: Rhuidean is being built. The accursed Lost Ones search for their songs. Astute readers know these are the Tinkers.
Link to familiar: Aiel have militaristic thinking, hatred of Tinkers.
There are even more revelations, links and mysteries as the Mandein scene progresses. Each vision establishes how it fits with the others, reveals intimate information about the Aiel that has links to present-day Aiel, exposes new mysteries that will be solved in the next visions, and contains clues relating to other cultures, characters, and objects that are important in the series.
This first vision scene tells readers that the upcoming scenes will reveal why Aiel do not use swords, why the Jenn and Aes Sedai put so much effort into ensuring they learn and remember the Aiel. Each of the visions only takes readers a little way towards the final revelations. It reminds me of a word game in which you make one word become another but are only allowed to change one letter at a time.
The next scene establishes the timing of the visions by discussing the founding of Tar Valon. Later visions confirm the setting to be during the Breaking of the World. Eventually every cultural belief of the Aiel is shown to be a misinterpretation of what has come before, from sword-wielding, to veiling before battle, to their short hair, to refusal to ride horses. The Aiel truly forgot where they came from, largely as a result of some very humiliating personal failures that resulted from justifiable actions. By Jenn Aiel standards they were not justifiable, they were rationalized. The visions move gradually from stories that touch on several aspects of Aiel cultural life to Lewin’s, one that is intensely personal but almost devoid of Aiel culture since it is the true origin of Aiel.
Before there were Aiel, there were the Da’shain, who traveled the world in wagons, looking for a place of shelter. They also had a duty so important that it would lead to Lewin being cast out of the Da’shain wagons. Several generations believed that duty was to protect the ter’angreal in the wagons, but above all else, the Aes Sedai hoped to preserve the peaceful ways of the Da’shain, their belief being the last remnant of the Age of Legends. Even Rand sees the modern Aiel for what they are, not what they were. Those Aiel who will follow Rand will do so out of desire to fulfill their destiny, to atone for their sin and their failure to keep to the Way of the Leaf. But they will not be able to follow it themselves, both they and Rand see them as weapons to be used. The one who must follow the Way of the Leaf in their place is Rand, and to follow the Jesus myth, he will have to embrace non-violence against the Shadow and die.
Telling the collection of short stories that make up the visions in reverse chronological order works very effectively. An alternative would have been to start at the beginning, and leave the reader wondering how this would lead to the Aiel they know, but this approach would not have displayed the same keen sense of loss and failure felt when readers discover that each generation tried so hard, but ultimately failed at what they were supposed to do. Highlighting that knowledge puts the emphasis back on Rand and his duty to correct the mistakes and atone for the sins. The final scene of the visions shows the Dark One being freed, and is the origin of the entire story. The origin of the end of the Aiel, of their sin and their duty, and Rand’s origin as well, which will lead to his conclusive battle against the Dark One.
Dreaming was a somewhat common power through all the generations of Aiel. When the Tuatha’an splintered off from the Da’shain, did they lose the Dreamwalking ability? Does having Dreamwalkers in your midst keep you on the right path, while those without Dreamwalkers split off and wander away?
Mat is the only one who makes blunt assessments of Rand’s madness. His rash words are so often wrong they are overlooked, which makes his notice of something a perfect place to hide something in plain sight. As the reader and other characters dismiss Mat’s insight, it still serves to remind readers that madness will overtake Rand. They will clearly not believe it has begun already.
Perrin learns the hazards of dealing with Eelfinn AFTER it’s too late for Mat, a fun way of revealing more about the redstone doorway worlds that might have taken away some of the mystery had it been told to Perrin before Mat’s encounters. Slayer did not enter the Tower of Ghenjei, but making Perrin believe he did was an excellent trap. With dead wolves and Faile to concern him, Perrin now has enough reason to live to avoid immediately giving himself up to the Whitecloaks.
Keep plots and events personal, keep your character’s identity mired in the events that transpire around him, and even when it all seems so obvious already, make it about your character again.