Reading The Wheel of Time: Taim, a Seal, and a Farm in Robert Jordan’s Lord of Chaos (Part 4)

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I’m very happy to finally be getting into proper chapters in Lord of Chaos, and it’s really interesting to see where Rand is and how much he’s grown as a channeler and a leader. We’re covering Chapters One-Three today, and we finally get to meet a character we’ve heard a lot about—Mazrim Taim. He’s quite something, too.

I do just want to mention, as I believe I did several books ago, that there’s an inherent ableism in the language used around the taint. I try to avoid words like “mad” and “insane” in my own language, since they’re historically stigmatizing to mental illness, but it’s too built into the world to avoid entirely. That kind of adjustment in how we speak was only starting to be a conversation when Jordan was writing these books, and there are so many words whose roots go back to oppression or stigma—it’s taken my 90s child brain forever to purge the word ‘lame’ from my vocabulary—so I just want to acknowledge the problem here before I continue.

And now, on to the recap.

 

A wind blows across the war-ravaged landscape of Cairhien and the hot, draught damaged fields of Andor. It stirs the banners over the Royal Palace in Caemlyn, one red and bearing the ancient symbol of the Aes Sedai, the other white and bearing the golden serpent of the Dragon.

Among the colonnades, Rand battles with practice swords against five men. He takes out four but the last manages to strike him on the head. Rand has the maidens pay his opponents for their service. He endures the compliments and brown-nosing from the nobles who were watching the fight, aware that they were all toadies to Lord Gaebril and irritated by their attempts to play the Game of Houses.

Davram Bashere interrupts to ask why Rand, being who he is, bothers practicing with the sword at all. To illustrate his point he hurls a dagger at Rand, who stops it in midair with saidin and commands the Aiel and the Andorans not to attack Bashere. Rand is filled with cold rage, but it fades as Bashere remains composed, and points out that Rand is too well protected by the Aiel and Bashere’s horseman for anything human to get close to him. He supposes the Dragon can do as he pleases, but reminds Rand that too much depends on him to risk getting his skull split open in a practice fight.

Rand’s thoughts are interrupted by Lews Therin’s, and he clutches his head, worrying Bashere and the others in the courtyard. The stronger Rand has become in saidin, the stronger Lews Therin’s thoughts in his head have become, and the harder he has to fight to keep them from taking him over. Bashere wishes they had an Aes Sedai to help with what he assumes is an injury from the sparring match and Rand points out that he can’t trust the Aes Sedai. Bashere snorts.

“However hard your head is, sooner or later you’ll have to trust Aes Sedai. Without them, you’ll never bring all the nations behind you short of conquest. People look for such things. However many of the Prophecies they hear you’ve fulfilled, many will wait for the Aes Sedai to put their stamp on you.”

Rand argues that the Whitecloaks won’t give up Amadicia in any case, and that there’s still Sammael to deal with in Illian. The mention of the Forsaken causes one woman to faint and others among the Andoran nobility to look pale and sick. Bashere is unruffled, and continues to press Rand about trusting the Aes Sedai until Rand suggests that there are hundreds of Aes Sedai ready to support him. Bashere is shocked to realize that the Tower’s split is real, though he points out that the rebels won’t carry the same authority in people’s eyes as the Tower does.

Just then, one of Bashere’s man arrives in the courtyard to report to his commander that a man has arrived at the gates who claims to be Mazrim Taim. Bashere grips his sword hilt and the Andorans get worked up all over again, but Rand reminds them firmly of his amnesty.

Whatever Taim had done in Saldaea, he could not afford to turn away a man who could channel, a man who would not have to be taught from the first steps. He needed such a man. He would turn away no one except one of the Forsaken, not unless he was forced to. Demandred and Sammael, Semirhage and Mesaana, Asmodean and… Rand forced Lews Therin down; he could not afford distractions now.

Rand sends the Andorans away and Bashere has Mazrim Taim brought in. Rand looks him over as Taim approaches, considering that Taim has managed to hold the madness at bay for ten or fifteen years. Just then Lews Therin leaps in Rand’s mind, shouting about how Sammael and Demandred hated him and for Rand to kill Taim. Rand has to struggle against the thought, reminding himself that he’s Rand al’Thor until Lews Therin finally retreats.

Bashere doesn’t recognize Taim, prompting the man to explain “I shaved” and to reference battles they fought against each other.

Rand intervenes, asking if Taim came to see him or to taunt Bashere. Taim says he saw Rand fighting the Dark One in the sky and if he should call Rand “my Lord Dragon.” Rand lectures Taim on the dangers of the Forsaken and gives examples of horrible things that they have done, things besides which Taim’s crimes are nothing. He hopes the hostile Saldaeans guarding Taim are taking it all in as well.

And now you’ve come to accept my pardon, to walk in the Light and submit to me, to battle the Dark One as hard as you ever battled anyone. The Forsaken are reeling; I mean to hunt them all down, eradicate them. And you will help me. For that, you’ve earned your pardon. I tell you true, you’ll probably earn it a hundred times over again before the Last Battle is done.

Rand is surprised when Taim submits quickly, dropping to one knee and promising to serve and obey. When questioned, the man simply says that he has no other choice—he’ll be lucky to leave the city alive, and even if he does the Aes Sedai are still looking for him. He points out that he could have been the Dragon, but that since he can’t have that glory, he’ll settle for whatever pieces fall his way, standing at Rand’s right hand.

Rand asks if Taim can teach men to channel, and if he knows how to test a man to see if he can be taught, and Taim answers that he can do both. But he can’t tell Rand how he has managed not to go mad after all this time—he just has. Rand wonders privately if Taim might be more mad than he appears, if his bravery in the face of the danger posed by Bashere, the soldiers, and the Maidens is real, feigned, or a kind of madness itself. Taim tells Rand that he has brought him a token of trust, and hands over one of the cuendillar seals. Rand can tell it’s brittle enough to break in his hands, and realizes that there are now three broken and three in his possession.

Lews Therin’s voice came up like thunder. Break it break them all must break them must must must break them all break them and strike must strike quickly must strike now break it break it break it…

It takes tremendous effort to shove Lews Therin down again, and then Rand realizes that he’s muttering “break it to himself” and has the seal raised over his head, ready to be thrown to the ground and shattered. The only thing stopping him is Bashere holding his arms. Bashere murmurs in Rand’s ear that he doesn’t know what the thing is but that Rand should probably wait a bit before breaking it. Rand agrees, and notices the shock on Taim’s face. Taim explains that it was given to him by a farmer in Saldaea, who claimed that his family were once nobles under Artur Hawkwing and have been guarding it for thousands of years.

Rand gives the seal to Bashere, who, realizing what it is, promises to keep it safe until Rand requires it. Rand asks the man why he isn’t afraid of Rand going mad like the others, and Bashere tells him a story about a general he once followed who was basically insane but still the greatest general Bashere ever knew, one who never lost a battle.

Rand laughed. “So you follow me because you think I can out-general the Dark One?”

“I follow you because you are who you are,” Bashere said quietly. “The world must follow you, or those who survive will wish themselves dead.”

Rand understands, even without the Prophecies to say he must bind the lands together, he knows that it won’t just be him and the Dark One having a solitary battle together; Tarmon Gaidon will include every Shadowspawn and every Darkfriend, and plenty of unforeseen dangers as well. He tells Bashere that he is going to take Taim to the farm, and that he will be back later to inspect Bashere’s troops.

He takes up his sword, the one Aviendha gave him with the golden dragon on the hilt, and the Seanchan spear. Lews Therin screams at him to kill Taim as the man asks where Rand is taking him.

Rand opens a gateway and Enaila and a few of the other Maidens veil themselves and leap through. He tells Taim that he can show him how to make one and they step through, followed by the rest of the Maidens. Rand hears Aviendha’s voice asking him to wait and lets the gateway snap closed abruptly. None of the Maidens say anything to him about it, but they communicate in handtalk and he knows it’s about him.

Rand ignores their curiosity and disapproval and sets out through the trees. He begins lecturing Taim on the Forsaken and the other dangers he will encounter while serving Rand, including the “bubbles of evil” that rise up from the Dark One into the Pattern. He’s pleased to learn that Taim has never heard of balefire—that’s one thing Rand doesn’t want anyone to be taught.

They reach a farm in the woods where they find the twenty seven men who have answered Rand’s summons, many of whom have their family with them. Most are quite young, though there are some with gray hair as well. Taim is dismissive of the lot, then surprised to learn that Rand doesn’t know how to test them. Still, Rand is firm that the work is important, and that he doesn’t have time to do it himself, so they step forward and Rand introduces Taim as their new teacher. Some of the men appear excited, others hesitant. Rand tells them that any of them are allowed to leave before they learn to channel, but that once they do they are the same as any soldier. He speaks of the dangers to come, carefully picking his words as he points out that the dangers coming will reach everyone, soldier or no, and then urges them to at least find out if they can channel before they go.

Taim creates a flame, lecturing out loud as he works so that Rand can follow without admitting his own ignorance. He creates a flame and has the first man, a former Queen’s Guardsman name Damer Flinn, concentrate on it. He seems to be listening for something, so Rand listens too. Ten minutes pass.

Suddenly Rand felt it. The resonance. A small thing, a tiny echo of the minuscule flow of Power pulsing in Taim, but this seemed to come from Damer. It had to be what Taim meant, but Taim did not move. Perhaps there was more, or maybe this was not what Rand thought.

After another minute or two Taim lets go of saidin and tells Damer that he can learn, and that he wouldn’t be surprised if all of the men can, since Rand seems to have a ridiculous amount of luck. Rand, meanwhile, is surprised that he detected the resonance before Taim. Rand reminds Taim of the trust he is putting in him—the word stirs up Lews Therin again—and says that he’ll come back tomorrow to check on his progress.

Taim runs after him, however, clearly irritated and telling Rand that if he stays he can learn the test. Rand counters that he already picked up on it, and that yes, he does mean to make this all Taim’s job. He tells Taim to teach them all quickly, as quickly as they can possibly learn, especially anything that can be used to fight, and the test itself. He needs to find more. He speaks again of their enemies, thinking not only of the Shadowspawn and the Forsaken but also of Whitecloaks and Black Ajah.

“I am going to defeat them, Taim. All of them. They think they can tear everything down. It’s always tearing down, never building up! I’m going to build something, leave something behind. Whatever happens, I will do that! I’ll defeat the Dark One. And cleanse saidin, so men don’t have to fear going mad, and the world doesn’t have to fear men channeling. I’ll…”

He stops himself, shocked that he would consider something so impossible. Changing subjects, he warns Taim to keep an eye out for anyone who seems to be learning too quickly. Then he orders Taim to seize as much of saidin as he can hold. It doesn’t seem much short of what Rand can manage himself, and he finds himself wondering if Taim is holding back.

Then he realizes that he himself is also filled with the One Power, that he’s even drawing more using the angreal in his pocket. Lews Therin is back, screaming for Rand to kill Taim, and Rand isn’t sure which of them seized saidin. He shouts at Lews Therin, and is surprised when the voice shuts up immediately. He warns Taim again to keep an eye out, and quietly, and Taim bows to him, agreeing to do as the Lord Dragon commands.

When he’s gone, the Maidens fuss over Rand exerting himself and spending too much time in the sun, and Rand endures it as something he owes these women who will be put in harm’s way for him, and to whom he represents so many children born to Maidens and given up. Enaila gives him a spare shoufa, and Jalani teases him for sweating too much.

He decides not to go back to Bashere and the inspection just yet, because he doesn’t want to face Aviendha. He decides to pay his planned visit to Weiramon now, and opens another gateway into a tent and the Maidens step through. Rand glances back, noticing the relief on one wife’s face as she consoles a man who did not turn out to have the ability to channel, and the way another is staring right at him. Then he steps through the gateway, reminding himself that he does what he has to do.

 

Now that we’re out of the Prologue and into the story proper, Lord of Chaos has wasted no time in reminding us of one of the main themes of The Wheel of Time: Everybody has an agenda. Rand’s even paying people extra if they manage to hit him in the sword practice to make sure that the men he faces are honest about their skills. It’s fascinating to see Taim’s perspective on why he wanted to be the Dragon after everything we’ve watched Rand go through, first as he tried to resist the inevitable, then as he accepted his fate and all the pain that comes with it. Rand has had to learn that being a general means sacrifices, that he can’t fight a war on his own, and that getting involved with the world inevitably means getting involved with politics. But where Rand sees pain, sacrifice, and “becoming hard,” Taim apparently sees glory. Bashere reminds Rand that the last person to resist the Aes Sedai was Artur Hawkwing, and one wonders if Taim thought similarly, if he reflected on the old legends about that time and dreamed that someone would tell those sorts of stories about him one day. Maybe he always accepted the bigger picture, that uniting the world means war and death and that never really bothered him. He clearly has some disdain for Rand’s recruits, calling them “pathetic dregs” and probably didn’t care much about the casualties suffered by footsoldiers and others that Taim deemed beneath him.

I can see why Rand feels like he doesn’t like the guy. I wonder if Taim comes from a privileged background, or if it’s merely his ability as a channeler that drives himself to this perspective. I’ve always wondered what makes the false Dragons want to declare themselves; we know that the Pattern tends to spin out more of them when it’s ready to spin out the Dragon himself, but it’s not clear if the False Dragons are somehow compelled by the Pattern to believe that they really are the Dragon Reborn or if it’s just a vanity project. I can certainly see that there might be a few people vainglorious enough to claim the title, but given how basically everyone feels about the Dragon Reborn, it seems like most men who realized they could channel would want to stay very far away from such a claim.

I’m also curious about why Lews Therin is so against Taim. I mean, there’s a lot of questions there. We can tell at this point that it really is Lews Therin in Rand’s mind, or at least a factually accurate representation of him. And while Lews Therin is certainly a symptom of what the taint is doing to Rand’s mind, it seems a bit like Lews Therin’s personality is a bit mad, as well. The only question is if this is taint-induced madness or just grief-induced. What does Lews Therin see when Rand looks at Taim? Would he see Demandred and Sammael in any man who could channel, or is there something more about Taim, his attitude and his ambition, that’s putting Lews Therin’s hackles up? Obviously Rand shouldn’t go around smashing seals and killing other male channelers, but is Lews Therin completely detached from Rand’s reality, seeing only his own story and his own pain, or is he genuinely trying to protect Rand in some way? He has a lot of knowledge and experience that Rand lacks, after all. So I suppose only time will tell.

I know why I’m against Taim, though. There’s that bit when he’s taunting Bashere and he references two men and their wives who came to him under a flag of truce and then tried to kill him. He says that Bashere hushed up what happened to those four, and that he hopes Bashere found them some work as servants since, “[a]ll they’ll really want to do now is serve and obey” and “they won’t be happy otherwise.” That sounds a lot like compulsion or something similar, and speaks to a worrying vindictive streak. Good guys might employ compulsion out of necessity, but surely Taim could have stopped them in a number of other ways. I suppose it’s possible that some part of what he did to them was instinctual, and maybe he doesn’t know how to undo it, but it feels like he brings it up just to throw it in Bashere’s face, and the way his tone is so matter-of-fact makes it feel even more deliberate than if he was openly mocking.

But Taim is hardly the only person with an agenda. It didn’t even occur to me that the only nobility left in Caemlyn would be those loyal to Gaebril. Maybe a few of them feel the way Tallanvor does; maybe a few missed his manipulation of her (no one could have known he was using compulsion, after all) and thought that Morgase really had become a petty jerk who was neglecting her duties and decided to side with Gaebril, but what he did was still usurpation, and once Morgase disappeared that would have been an unignorable red flag. So these guys are more like the Tairen nobility, two-faced and ambitious, and unlikely to hold any real loyalty for anyone. Which is really a pity for Rand, who could probably benefit from having Morgase’s friends around. But then if they were, he wouldn’t have needed to take over Andor at all.

He does have Bashere, though, and I already love the guy. He seems to be one of the most level-headed characters we’ve encountered, and he fits with everything we’ve heard about him from Faile. I often (like super often, because I love it) praise Jordan’s execution of dramatic irony, and this is an especially enjoyable moment of it because it’s not a stressful one. Instead of a moment where the reader knows something that would save a character from stress or harm, it’s just a fun little detail that Rand’s hanging out with Perrin’s super awesome father-in-law, and Perrin married Bashere’s super awesome daughter in law, and none of them know it. I can’t wait for Perrin to show up, answering Rand’s ta’veren tug, with Faile by his side. Does Bashere even know that Faile became a hunter for the Horn? And now she’s married to one of the Dragon’s best friends who is also a wolf brother. Man, that father-daughter reunion is going to be epic.

Ta’veren tug? That’s not… That’s almost as bad as taint madness. I’m not gonna call it that again.

But thank goodness Bashere showed up when he did, because Rand’s lost both Moiraine and Lan and is really hurting for an advisor. The sense of loss he feels over Moiraine’s death, and over Lan’s leaving is subtle but clear. He’s not just practicing the sword to clear his mind, he’s also doing it to feel closer to Lan. And it’s kind of strange to see him acknowledge Moiraine as an Aes Sedai he trusted after he spent most of the novels fighting her and being afraid of the strings that she might put on him. Putting aside the message that the way a woman gains a man’s trust is through perfect submission, which isn’t a part of the story I particularly care for, I feel a little robbed of all the moments they must have shared after she agreed to do things his way and he started welcoming her advice. Jordan does a great job managing the complexities of his plot and still leaving room for character development, but I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to see Rand and Moiraine develop a friendship.

That’s another reason I wish Perrin would hurry up and get back to Rand. Other than Mat, who has his whole Mat issues, Rand doesn’t have anyone he feels like he can trust and rely on. His Aiel generals are spread out on whatever missions Rand has been sending them on (I believe we’ll get more information on that in the next chapter) and he has too many complicated feelings about the Maidens to feel comfortable around him, though he does trust that they will obey him and keep him safe. Perrin would be an excellent person to have by his side, someone steady and dependable who has experienced the kind of burden Rand is carrying, albeit on a smaller scale. Somehow I feel things won’t be that simple, but I’d like them to be. Just once. For poor Rand’s sake.

Speaking of Mat, I’m super curious what’s going on with this plan re Weiramon and the inspection of Bashere’s troops. At least I think it’s just one plan, though the narration is so vague I didn’t even know how to put it in the summary.

There are a lot of interesting moments in here where we see the way Rand’s approach to what he’s doing, his understanding and opinions about how to be the Dragon and a leader, differs from those who have held the reins of the world until now. For example, Rand has specific views on prophecies, believing that they set the conditions that must be met in order for a thing to happen, but that they don’t guarantee that the thing will happen. I think this is a really good setup on Jordan’s part, combining the reincarnation and predestination aspects of his worldbuilding with a focus on free will and the burden of choice that Rand and our other heroes face.

We also see better logic from Rand than we do from Pedron Niall. He doesn’t think he’s more than a man either, even though he’s a powerful one with a prophesied destiny. He also believes it’s going to be a huge battle against Shadowspawn and Darkfriends, and like Niall, recognizes that it’s only by uniting against them that humanity stands a chance. But that just reinforces that other people are important, not that the Dragon Reborn isn’t real or that all channelers are Darkfriends. Rand has managed to take a holistic view of the world, rather than needing to ignore what doesn’t fit the way he wants it too.

And then there’s my favorite example, which is that he’s telling everyone that the Forsaken are loose and in the world, and is even honest that he knows where Sammael is. There’s a lot of compassion in the choice to be transparent about this, even though it is also a calculated move. Rand knows that the Aes Sedai don’t want to share that truth for fear of spreading chaos and panic, but he believes that it will be worse if people don’t have a chance to overcome that panic rather than being confronted by the revelation in a desperate moment. It shows that Rand has a faith in people that the Aes Sedai don’t share. Both point of views are understandable, given where they come from, but I think Rand’s is the right one. People have a right to know what they face, all people, not just the powerful few at the top.

And perhaps that is why the prophecies speak of the Dragon Reborn sundering ties and sowing chaos. There are too many old structures that are no longer good for the world—the isolation of the Aes Sedai from the people they serve, the long-held animosity between nations, the hierarchy and power structures designed to favor High Lords and keep everyone else in poverty. All these things make the world weaker, and it’s Rand’s monumental task to somehow undo all these ties and find a better way.

Just like he has to find a way to train male Aes Sedai.

Maybe Rand needs to team up with Nynaeve She wants to Heal stilling; he wants to find a way to fix the taint. And we know that men and women working together makes channeling stronger than it can ever be with just one side working alone. And that’s how they made the Eye of the World, right? Somehow they filtered the taint out of saidin, which makes me wonder if the filter couldn’t be put on backwards, as it were, filtering the saidin before a man touches it rather than after. But I think it’s going to be a long time before anything like that is even attempted. Meanwhile, Rand is going to head off to check on the forces he’s massing to attack Illian and Sammael.

Final thoughts and fun moments:

I really enjoyed Rand’s amusement that Bashere and others think Egwene is a Green Sister.
Rand gets the word gholam from Lews Therin’s memories. I wonder if the word doesn’t refer to some kind of animated creatures like the forgers we saw last week, or some similar creature animated by something other than naturally-born life.
I hope Damer becomes a regularly featured character. Always gotta love a Flinn/Flynn.
Rand doesn’t know Asmodean has been killed—he just thinks he escaped.

Sylas K Barrett has been watching a lot of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and keeps picturing Davram Bashere as Julian Bashere which is really quite hilarious.

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