In Mat’s sub-thread in Crossroads of Twilight the motif of weird and wonderful journeys to far off lands arises, a motif Foreshadowed to climax with the third journey to the *elfin folk, and we get various peoples’ reactions to travellers’ tales. Noal tells Olver some in Tuon’s presence:
“Noal has been telling us about Co’dansin, Mat,” he [Olver] exclaimed. “That’s another name for Shara. Did you know the Ayyad tattoo their faces? That’s what they call women who can channel, in Shara.”Mat disbelieves Noal’s stories, even though he has seen and experienced stranger himself.
“No, I didn’t,” Mat said, settling a grim eye on Noal. It was bad enough that Vanin and the Redarms were teaching the boy bad habits, not to mention what he was picking up from Juilin and Thom, without Noal filling his head with made-up nonsense.
- Crossroads of Twilight, A Cluster of Rosebuds
Noal is Jain Farstrider in disguise – he reluctantly conceded that they are related in Knife of Dreams, A Stave and A Razor - and has been relating tales of Shara, the sort he published in The Travels of Jain Farstrider. When amazed at fellow yarn-spinner and aspiring writer Mat’s tale of his adventures with the Aelfinn, Noal makes a bit of a slip and exclaims:
“It's just, that tops anything I ever did. Anything Jain ever did, too. Would you mind if I made the third?While Noal’s veracity is not as suspect as Mat believes, there is something unreliable about Noal:
Knife of Dreams, A Village in Shiota
Suddenly he realized he was touching his head again. He did not have a headache, but his head felt... peculiar... sometimes. Most often when he thought of what he could not remember… Once again he pulled his hand down from his head. Sooner or later, he would remember. He did not have much time left, but it was all he did have. He remembered that much.He appears to be under a form of Compulsion, so Mat’s instincts are correct, even if Mat hit on the wrong aspect of his unreliability. As Mat noticed, Noal has mental lapses, has gone off unexpectedly or taken longer on errands than expected and returned breathless as though he has run:
- A Crown of Swords, The Triumph of Logic
Abruptly, Noal darted around from the rear of the tent, breathing hard as if he had been running. Juilin glanced up in surprise at the old man, and Mat frowned. He had told Noal to come straight here. Where had he gone instead?Perhaps he is sending reports to someone. He is an effective information gatherer – as Mat noticed himself and made use of.
- Crossroads of Twilight, Two Captains
Who could have tampered with Noal? The Forsaken who uses Compulsion the most frequently and skilfully is Graendal. Rahvin, no slouch at Compulsion himself, possibly saw Noal at Graendal’s lair:
Rahvin had not even noticed the opening of a third gateway, showing a large room full of pools and fluted columns, nearly nude acrobats and attendants wearing less. Oddly, a lean old man in a wrinkled coat sat disconsolately among the performers.This old man matches Noal’s description.
- The Fires of Heaven, Prologue
Jain has been used by Forsaken previously. In The Eye of the World, Against the Shadow, Ishamael boasted that he had painted Jain Fastrider like a fool and sent him to the Ogier thinking he was free of Ishamael. Loial related how a man came to Stedding Shangtai after the Aiel War:
"He was at the point of death, though there was no wound or mark on him. The Elders thought it might be something Aes Sedai had done" - Loial gave Moiraine an apologetic look - "since as soon as he was within the stedding he quickly got well. A few months. One night he left without a word to anyone, simply sneaked away when the moon was down." He looked at Moiraine's face and cleared his throat again. "Yes. Brief. Before he left, he told a curious tale which he said he meant to carry to Tar Valon. He said the Dark One intended to blind the Eye of the World, and slay the Great Serpent, kill time itself.”which makes it sound as though Ishamael was putting his best face on the situation and Jain unexpectedly escaped or at least survived Ishamael’s attentions. And once in the Stedding the effects of Ishamael’s weaves wore off.
- The Eye of the World, Remembrance of Dreams
When Noal leaves the main world altogether for the Otherworld of the Finns, maybe his Compulsion wears off, or is negated by the Finns.
Noal’s ‘tall tales’ make him seem harmless to Mat and prevent Mat from asking why Noal disappears sometimes, or considering that Noal’s ability to work out what is going on might be a danger. Of course if Mat ever takes Noal and his tales seriously, Noal’s very experience in strange and dangerous journeys and the knowledge he has amassed over the years will be an asset in the Tower of Ghenjei.
Noal himself considers his career chequered:
"He [Jain] fought Trollocs and Myrddraal, and he had more adventures than anyone else in the whole world! Even Mat! He captured Cowin Gemallan after Gemallan betrayed Malkier to the Shadow!"This seems to Foreshadow that Noal will sacrifice himself so that Mat, who is now married, escapes the *Finns and doesn’t leave his wife Fortuona to die alone.
Noal came to himself with a start and patted Olver's shoulder. "He did that, boy. That much is to his credit. But what adventure is worth leaving your wife to die alone?"
- Knife of Dreams A Stave and a Razor
To complement this post an essay I wrote for Wotmania on Writings For Armchair Travellers comparing famous early European travellers’ tales with Jain Farstrider’s books is now republished here on the blog.