In this section, Rand and Elayne lose control of something.
Birgitte confirms that Elayne didn’t get lost; it was the Palace that changed. Since she can’t do anything about the danger or problems that come with locales changing suddenly, instead, she stoically goes on with the things she can do something about. The mutable geography is not necessarily the same as bubbles of evil, which have a more sinister and violent effect, but they are just as random.
Young Perival correctly deduces that a third of the High Seats of Andor are keeping their distance because of the nearby Borderlander army. Elayne’s earlier meeting with the Borderlanders in Winter’s Heart is still bearing fruit, yet it also gives the impression that not much has changed since then. That will come to an abrupt end with Arymilla’s apparent bribery of the mercenary companies guarding Caemlyn. Arymilla expects to have the city within a week. As with the Perrin storyline, establishing a firm countdown to disaster ramps up the tension and dispels any sense of drudgery or lack of progress. One way or the other, with Arymilla’s scheme unfolding, the plotline will be resolved.
A discussion of House Mantear, the House that Rand is descended from, added to Elayne’s unswerving confidence her babies will be born safely, linked a few ideas in my mind. Elaida’s Foretelling was that the Royal Line of Andor is the key to winning the Last Battle. She thinks it means Elayne, but readers know it probably means Rand, and there is a slight possibility it means Morgase, or Luc, or some other secondary character. However, I’m surely not the first to see that Rand and Elayne’s children are descended from the two most recent Royal Families of Andor. Could all of Moridin’s schemes be aimed at Rand’s children, to prod him in ways he couldn’t be prodded before? Could Rand’s children or his attitude towards them be the key to winning the Last Battle? To fit the themes in the story so far, the Last Battle will have to be about Rand affirming his identity for once and for all. In what ways could his children factor into that? Will they represent the humanity he is trying to save, or will they represent a sacrifice on his part?
Reanne’s death and the discovery of a doll that should have been taken by a fleeing Kinswoman rule out Merilille as the Black Ajah. Sadly, it means Elayne can add a number of probable murders to the bill, since it implies that most of the vanished Kinswomen were killed, and did not run away.
Loial interviews Rand for his book, and is told almost nothing really useful, something Theorylanders are familiar with from RAFO-filled author interviews. The boys from Manetheren have rubbed off on Loial, for he is ready to address the Stump with his views that the Ogier should stand against the Dark One rather than flee to another Dimension using their Book of Translation. Loial acquiesces to his Mother’s demand for a wedding, which takes place minutes after her arrival, the only hasty thing Ogier ever do. For all of his fear that his life would be dominated by a wife, she asks him what he would do, and then supports him in that decision.
I once asked Robert Jordan why Rand had never thought again about the mysterious stranger who saved his life in Shadar Logoth. At last, Rand does so now, recognizing his face as the one that has been appearing in his head shortly after he thinks of Mat and Perrin. It’s likely this was the point of the story in which this information was bound to appear, and not the direct result of a fan’s question. Rand also concludes that the stranger used the Forsaken’s so-called True Power. He stops short of realizing that the stranger may be a reincarnated Forsaken, failing to recognize that the Lord of the Grave is more than a name, it describes one of his abilities. The ability to parse out information slowly is often difficult, as authors are eager to show off the wonderful world they have created. The trick is in supplying just enough new information to keep the reader happy without going beyond the minimum that the reader needs. The Wheel of Time’s length, multiple plotlines, numerous characters and publication schedule have demonstrated that it is possible to dole out clues very slowly, over two decades, and still maintain an air of mystery and wonder with each revelation.
Rand’s madness isn’t getting worse, but he is at the point where he and Lews Therin seem evenly balanced, as represented by Lews Therin’s several comments that he doesn’t understand why he has voice in his head. Establishing how even they are, mirror images of each other, is key to the surprise when Lews Therin grasps the One Power from Rand during a monumental Trolloc attack. Lews Therin wails that he can’t move his hands, as though it is his body and Rand has grasped physical control of the body from him. A Trolloc attack, even in numbers of hundreds of thousands, is no longer enough to threaten the heroes. Unless a monkey wrench is thrown into the works. As has often been the case, this obstacle is not a physical one but one of identity. Who is Rand? Is he really Lews Therin? Rand’s immediate need is to strike some agreement with the madman in his head or he will die. When the metaphysical argument has physical consequences that can put Rand and his allies in harm’s way, the stakes are raised far more effectively than if the attack had simply been overwhelming numbers of Shadowspawn.
Time pressure not only increases tension, but can dispel any concerns that the plot isn’t moving.