In this section, Nynaeve can’t get through to Rand
As with several earlier storylines, the focus is shifting from physical obstacles, such as the Last Battle, to character-driven storylines, such as Cadsuane and Nynaeve’s need to have Rand rediscover his feelings before it’s too late. In this section the problem is just being established. I’ll note once again that Cadsuane represents the Light, and Nynaeve represents Rand’s conscience. Ever since he dismissed the Light, his conscience is in turmoil.
Arad Doman is itself a metaphor, the people need something more than Rand offers. He brings food but the people distrust it.
Cadsuane learns that the normal ta’veren balancing of events is no longer taking place. The bad effects persist, the good ones have stopped occurring. A sudden change in a fact that the reader knows to be true is an effective way of raising the stakes.
Cadsuane ponders the question of who stole the collar and bracelets from her room. She concludes its removal was intentionally designed to sow distrust. The obvious candidate is Shaidar Haran, who was in the building, and has some reality-bending abilities, surely enough to get past Cadsuane’s defensive weaves.
Cadsuane comes up with a desperate plan, kept secret from the reader. She runs to the Wise Ones with it, and they listen.
Nynaeve may be trustworthy enough to act as Rand’s new advisor. His first act is to tell her how Lan’s death in the Blight may serve Rand’s larger battle plan. Rand then consigns the noblewoman Milisair to the dungeon where she let a messenger die, Rand’s last lead to track down Graendal. Nynaeve disagrees with that act as well, but Rand is ready to banish her as easily as he banished Cadsuane. Rand’s solutions to all possible problems involve force and decrees, leaving little room for anyone else’s wishes to be considered.
Nynaeve recalls that only Moiraine had ever made any headway with Rand, guiding him as she guided saidar. She immediately dismisses the idea of flattering him or acting subservient, choosing instead to demonstrate that they are working towards the same goals by trying to uncover a link to Graendal. Her refusal to bow and scrape is similar to when she refused to apologize to Mat in A Crown of Swords, even though that character-centric action is what was required to succeed in her quest.
Nynaeve shows Rand a boy she discovered, suffering from Compulsion. At Rand’s instruction, and seeking to prove herself, she removes Graendal’s weaves, causing the boy’s death. Even though he whispers a location to Rand, Nynaeve considers the exercise a failure since she believes the boy could have been saved had Rand not so callously determined his fate. When Rand guides her, she is soiled, their relationship needs to be set back properly with her guiding him.
Rand explains himself: he doesn’t need to save his soul, since he’ll be dying in the Last Battle. He doesn’t have to worry about whether his hardness will destroy him; he knows it will. He accepts that Nynaeve cares about him, and is grateful, but has no need of that emotion. Nynaeve sees that by surrendering his hope, he has lost all reason to care about the outcome of his battles. Yet she cannot find words to argue against his grim point of view; he is dragging her along with him.
With these chapters, the format is similar to Jordan’s earlier books with a lengthier focus on a particular locale and set of characters. This seems to be partly due to the rapid succession of events in each locale, though that rapid succession itself may be a result of Jordan’s plotting to fit the desired novel structure. Compressing events in time allows that lengthier focus to be maintained.
Nynaeve spends a long chapter piecing together a mystery, so we’ll take a closer look at how this mystery is presented.
A sick boy met on the road home allows a chance to show off the skills Nynaeve will use to find clues, particularly Delving to find symptoms of illness. Nynaeve is looking for clues without knowing what they might look like, but readers aren’t even immediately told she is looking for clues leading to Graendal, all they know is that she is looking for some means to get Rand to listen to her. Vague language keeps the reader guessing: A plan began to take root in her head. By the time she reached the mansion, she had an idea of what to do.
Nynaeve recruits three soldiers, and uses them to recruit a handful of servants, never telling the reader why. Curiosity over the lack of context and her out-of-character actions keeps the reader interested. The author could simply have presented readers with Nynaeve busting down the door of the chandler’s shop and offered a quick explanation of why she was there and who she had brought with her, but keeping it a mystery accentuates the feeling that she is looking for something, because the reader is also looking for something.
Nynaeve procures her first piece of information, the dungeon’s location, and thinks: Good. She didn’t intend to withhold information. Revealing this location tells the reader what to think about, what to try make connections to. Nynaeve’s thoughts tell that more information will be forthcoming, but not until it is needed. The author withholds each piece of information as long as possible, allowing readers time to try figure it out and maintaining their sense of curiosity as long as possible.
At last the reason for Nynaeve’s interest is given: the timing between Rand’s request for the messenger and his death. Too coincidental for her taste, she wants to investigate further.
The dungeon’s questioners are captured, but Nynaeve doesn’t directly them what she most wants to know, instead going through the facility one step at a time. The person she is looking for is ignored at first while she questions the torturers, and nearly manages to escape later. This is a typical distraction, presenting the reader with an obvious target for their attention, such that the true solution has been shown but is overlooked.
The torturers weave an incredible story, casting doubt on their version of events. Having already promised not to punish them for past sins if they cooperated, Nynaeve has no choice but to accept what they tell her. She decides to Delve and Heal Milisair before leaving in failure, which is when she discovers traces of poison, something so out of place she knows it is the link she has been looking for.
When writing mysteries, the character and reader must both be looking for something, but not necessarily for the same thing.
To sustain the mystery, reveal each dribble of information as late as possible.